Indiana State University Newsroom

King Richard III lives again at Indiana State April 16-19

April 10, 2015

King Richard III's remains may have been reinterred recently, but he will live again on Indiana State University's stage with the production of William Shakespeare's "Richard III."

"When all of (the reburial news) started coming down, I thought there is some cosmic force that is speaking my language and saying, ‘Do "Richard." We approve,'" said Chris Berchild, director and associate professor of theater.

The reburial has also raised questions about who really was this infamous historical figure. Shakespeare portrays him as a Machiavellian villain, who would stop at nothing to seize power and subsequently experienced a short reign that ended as violently as it began.

On the British monarchy's official website, King Richard is described as a usurper, and Queen Elizabeth II was noticeably absent from the funeral services on March 26.

"Was he this evil being? Or was he misrepresented by Shakespeare? I kind of like having our students to be a part of that discussion," Berchild said.

This telling of Shakespeare's tragedy, however, finds itself not on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485, but in Los Angeles 1947. In the years following World War II, the City of Angels is a land of opportunity -- for industry, entertainment and organized crime. In this American dreamland, Ricky "Gloucester" Cohen of Chicago's York crime family begins his ruthless rise from lowly enforcer to the king of the streets of L.A.

For those who haven't ever lived in southern California, their impression of Los Angeles is likely based on Hollywood stereotypes. But Berchild, an L.A. native, has a much different perspective, one dating back to his school days when he first learned about the young city's rise to power and significance in the United States.

"What kind of money (exchanges) and double-dealings must have occurred to get it there?" Berchild said. "One of the big bells that rang for me was that the mob had a big incursion in Los Angeles culture in the late 1940s."

One of those mobsters -- Mickey Cohen, whose ties to the Jewish and Italian mafia has been the subject of many TV and movie productions -- provides the perfect inspiration for this Shakespearean reboot. "This guy really was the Richard of 1940s Los Angeles," Berchild said. "He was working his way up in the crime family, he was pushing people out of his way, he was double-dealing people, there were rumors he killed his best friend to get ahead."

Along with exploring this seedy underbelly of L.A., Berchild has added some post-modern themes to the production, including a variety of music -- anything from David Bowie to Benny Goodman and Lorde.

"There's a whole lot of challenges I've thrown at the students, but they're really stepping up," Berchild said. "I think they're having fun with creating these new ideas. It's definitely not traditional Shakespeare." Shakespeare purists may be relieved to learn the Elizabethan iambic pentameter is still intact, providing a valuable lesson for theater students.

"Shakespeare is hard. The language is difficult, so the students were tasked with not only having to take on this almost foreign language, but also copious amounts of it. This is Shakespeare's second-longest play, right behind ‘Hamlet,'" Berchild said. "They're doing a great job, and they've really put in the time and effort to exploring what these words are all about."

As the theater department continues to delve into emerging technologies for its productions, the use of newsreels in "Richard III" offers another teaching moment.

"I'm excited to give them the opportunity to play around with these ideas in the safety of our theater, where they can fail and try again and really hone their skills and go out with this entirely new skill set -- skills some people don't think the typical theater person has," Berchild said.

In the 1940s, many learned the latest news before the screening of a movie. In "Richard III," these newsreels provide necessary context for characters and situations.

"If you don't (have the newsreels), then people say, ‘Who is this Richard? Who is Buckingham? Why do I care?' All they are are names and weird relationships," Berchild said. "You have to recreate those relationships. That's one of the things we're doing with the projections and some of those elements."

"Richard III" also caps a trilogy of World War II-era adaptations Berchild has created from Shakespeare's work. For Crossroads Repertory Theater's 2009 season, he adapted the comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" for 1930s Hollywood. In a twist, the last scene introduced the incoming Nazi threat.

"A lot of people looked at that and said, ‘What? I don't remember Nazis in Shakespeare,'" he said. Then in 2011, Berchild set Shakespeare's bloodiest play, "Titus Andronicus" in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943.

To round out the final post-war piece, "Richard III" explores what happens when the world is at relative peace.

"Hopefully, people will take the chance and not get weighed down in ‘Shakespeare' and that old, crumbling notion a lot of people sometimes have coming out of their high school English classes," Berchild said.

Often asked "Why mess with Shakespeare?" Berchild responds that Shakespeare was the ultimate "mess-around-with-a-story person," that the playwright was never confined to convention or even vocabulary and was cavalier with his storylines and intellectual property rights.

"That's part of his genius. He knew what the crowds wanted. He knew what entertained people," Berchild said. "For my money, it's the greatest literature in the English language. I'm just so happy it happens to be in theater. I like to grab ahold of it and work with Shakespeare."

"Richard III" will run 7:30 p.m. April 16-18 and 4 p.m. April 19 in Indiana State's New Theater. Tickets are $10 each (or free with a valid student ID) and are on sale noon-4:30 p.m. April 13-17 in the New Theater lobby, 536 S. 7th St.

-30- -- Zach Kumpf is Richard and Rashad Ellis is Catesby in Indiana State University's production of "Richard III," April 16-19 in New Theater. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University Photography Services) -- Indiana State University's production of "Richard III" reboots the Shakespearean tragedy from the 15th century English battlefields to Los Angeles 1947. Ricky "Gloucester" Cohen of Chicago's York crime family begins his ruthless rise from lowly enforcer to the king of the streets of L.A. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University Photography Services) -- Indiana State University's production of "Richard III," set for April 16-19 in New Theater, reboots the Shakespearean tragedy from the 15th century English battlefields to Los Angeles 1947. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University Photography Services)

Contact: David Valdez, instructor, department of theater at Indiana State University, or 812-237-3337

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or