Richard (MacGregor Arney) is talking to his friend Barbara, or “Buck,” (Tamara Rozofsky), in the hallway of Roseland High School. Richard wants to find a way to convince Anne (Courtney Rikki Green) to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, and Buck cannot possibly fathom why one of the most popular girls in school would ever consider Richard. However, he is insistent. Richard will not let this desire go, and goes on to say:
“For once, people will see me.”
This scene alone is striking in its emotional resonance. Most can likely relate to Richard in this moment – a desire to be seen not only for more than just an outward appearance or assumption, but also to be less invisible. However, given the current moment, you might find that this line carries another layer of meaning. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and theaters all around Chicago are canceling or suspending entire productions. Theater Wit has found a creative workaround, and rather than attending this performance in person, this writer found herself enjoying the piece from the comfort (and social distance safety) of her own home through a webcast.
“For once, people will see me.”
So many artists in Chicago are feeling lost in the chaos, wondering how they can find work in this new reality. Theater Wit has seen the needs of their artists, and found a way to help their art reach the public.
Theater Wit presents Webcast of Teenage Dick
Written by Mike Lew and directed by Brian Balcom, this Chicago Premiere is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Richard III. Taking place in the halls of Roseland High School, Lew’s play follows Richard (MacGregor Arney), a student bullied for his cerebral palsy. Rather than trying to obtain the crown as he is in Shakespeare’s time, this Richard decides to run for class president, and he will stop at nothing to defeat his opponents – no matter who might get hurt along the way. As with any high school story, there is young love, over-the-top drama, and of course, a deep-seeded need for revenge. Lew’s clever script is full of dark humor and topical political references, bringing Shakespeare’s original piece right into today’s context.
It is impossible to discuss this production without mentioning the electronic platform. This writer is curious to know what the experience might have been like if the theater had more resources and time available to make this the best possible broadcast. The camera angles made certain scenes a little confusing to watch, and at times the volume was quiet. However, even with the given quality, the choice is certainly commendable. Overall, we are able to follow the events as they unfolded and be thankful that the theater is finding a way to share the art.
Most of the events in Lew’s play take place or stem from within the walls of Roseland High, and Balcom’s artistic team creatively found a way to bring that setting to life in Theater Wit’s intimate space. Scenic Designer Sotirios Livaditis’s base stage is the high school’s hallway – with red lockers that line either end of the space, and the school’s name on a gym-style floor at the center. When we move locations, sometimes other elements like classroom desks wheel in, and in other moments, the locker doors spin out to create a new room.
For example, when Anne offers to teach Richard to dance, we travel to her dance studio. She wheels out a dance bar, and stage hands from behind the locker wall spin out the doors to reveal mirrors. Suddenly a dance studio is revealed before our eyes, which is not only an exciting design effect to watch unfold, but this writer also felt the choice added to the play thematically. Richard’s overarching goal is to take over the school, and no matter where we travel, the stage’s base with the school’s name acts as a constant reminder of that desire that fuels the story.
Moments of Hope
Much like Shakespeare’s original text, Teenage Dick is at times a hard story to take in. Human desire and want can manifest itself in dark ways, and this story reveals the depths of that tendency in Richard. However, Lew is careful to include lighter moments of hope.
When Anne is teaching Richard to dance, all seems to be going well until he trips and falls. Anne rushes to help him and Richard refuses, allowing his pride to take over as he lashes out. Rather than exiting, Anne kneels down so she is at eye level, and asks him how it feels to move with his cerebral palsy. As a dancer, she explains she is obsessed with movement, and only wishes to better understand. As Richard starts to explain his thought process, he allows her to help him stand, and we see the young romance begin to form. Balcom highlights this moment of connection in his staging, bringing the actors to the ground and allowing them to rise together as they further connect. The moment is sweet, and you may even find yourself rooting for the couple’s success. The video cameras zoomed in on this moment, allowing those watching online to really focus on the blossoming hope of this romance.
Unfortunately given the unforeseen circumstances of the virus, this writer knows the theater perhaps had to film and broadcast the production before it was officially ready for the public. However, even given that, Lew’s script is a strong and comedic adaptation of the famous Shakespeare play. Theater Wit has found a way to bring the hard work of these artists to patrons throughout the city who have no choice but to isolate themselves in their homes. That alone is a commendable discovery.
Available through Webcast through May 17, 2020
Wednesdays at 8:00pm
Thursdays at 8:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Creative team:Jake Ganzer (choreographer), Sotirios Livaditis (scenic designer), Izumi Inaba (costume designer), Michelle Benda (lighting designer), Eric Backus (sound designer), Almanya Narula (intimacy/fight choreographer), Jonathan Berg-Einhorn (props designer), Clare Cooney (casting director), Sean McStravick (stage manager)
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.