The Spring 2020 University of Rhode Island theatre season features a historic Shakespeare tragedy and a musical comedy adapted from the classic film “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.”
The first production of this season is Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” As the URI theatre department page says, audiences are asked to “step into the mind of a seductive megalomaniac,” who will be portrayed by junior Matthew Oxley.
“I think it’s one of every actor’s dreams to play sort of a villain,” Oxley said. “But I think one of the coolest things about him is that there’s an ambiguity and a conflict about wanting to hate him, but you can’t because he’s so well written.”
Richard III aspires to take the throne and it is clear that he will stop at nothing to become king and retain the crown. Shakespeare’s 16th century play is still a famed, celebrated and often reproduced look at villainy and Machiavellianism.
“I think the biggest challenge is making it a language that everyone can understand,” Oxley said of taking on Shakespeare’s work. “It’s easy to read it and put on this dramatic Shakespeare voice, but in reality the best way for people to understand it is to try to take this unique language and know exactly what you’re saying, and therefore perform it for people so they can see exactly what you’re saying.”
Part of this task lies in the hands of the co-directors of the production, Josh and Joseph Short, brothers who have worked together as actor and director, but never together as directors. Josh Short serves as the founder and artistic director of the Wilbury Theatre Group and Joseph Short teaches voice and movement at the University.
Josh Short recognizes the challenges of co-directing and making Shakespeare new and exciting for modern audiences. He also admits that directing can be a lonely experience and has found many benefits from working with his brother, including the trust that leads to a positive and effective collaborative effort.
“I think the most challenging thing about it is breaking the stigma around it in terms of audience,” Josh Short said. “Getting through that stigma of ‘Shakespeare is boring, I don’t understand what they say.’ You do understand what they say when it’s done correctly.”
The second production of the semester, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” is led by experienced URI musical director, Professor Paula McGlasson, who has been a part of the theatre department since 1985 and has been directing productions at the University for about 20 years.
While there is a certain stigma and challenge in directing Shakespeare, there’s a different set of challenges McGlasson recognizes with “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” As the musical is adapted from a beloved film, the challenge with this production is to live up to the original film.
“There’s something of an image and story and that bar needs to be reached and you also of course want to be able to add your own creativity and your own inventions,” McGlasson said. “Deliver the show that people are coming to see, but also give them some new things to look at when they’re in their seats.”
Stage director and senior Gavin DiFranco is up to the challenge, and this will be his first time stage managing a comedy and a musical. He has known about his involvement in the production for quite some time and calls the time he’s had to prepare a “stage manager’s dream.”
DiFranco has been wanting to stage manage a musical for a while and “Monty Python’s Spamalot” is a musical all about fun and making fun, particularly of other musicals.
“It’s all over the place and it kind of makes fun of itself in that way,” DiFranco said. “It’s not a show about getting everything perfect, it’s about putting something big together and having fun.”
“Richard III” opens in J Studio on Feb. 20 and will close March 1 while “Monty Python’s Spamalot” will hold performances in Robert E. Will Theatre from April 16 to 26. Tickets can be purchased at the box office located in the Fine Arts Center or online.