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A Conversation with King Richard III and Queen Margaret

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[To Ben] How did you handle that day when we were here and we saw you do Benedick in Much Ado and Richard in the same day.

SARAH: That's happened more than once.

BEN: It's happened a couple of times. I don't know, you just do it.

Do you take a nap between shows?

BEN: No. It depends on which one comes first. If Richard comes first, it's actually not that bad. Because you have some dinner and then Benedick talks a lot but it's easy on the body, it's not that hard on the voice.

Except when you're doing the arbor scene.

BEN: Yeah, but that's just fun. And they do all the talking in that. I'm just crawling around. It's harder when it's Much Ado first, and then you've got to have dinner and be like, "Right, you're not even remotely done with your day. You have so much more play to do." I don't know. You just do it.

SARAH: It's our job. You find a way.

BEN: Our rehearsal room has the posters that we have in our lobby; once they take them down in the lobby they put them up in our rehearsal room. It's very weird to be rehearsing in there now because it's like you're in this chamber of ghosts—

SARAH: A time vault. Yeah, it's strange.

BEN: It's like, oh my god, it's 10 years of my life in here. I look at the summer/fall season from 2009 and I look at [James] Keegan on all of these posters. He's playing Falstaff in Henry IV One and Merry Wives, he's playing Titus, he's playing Leonato. He does not have an off night. Whatever double he did on that day, it couldn't have been easy. And I'm like, "You're younger than him, so stop complaining."

SARAH: The thing about this season, too, the Ren Season is so much shorter than our summer/fall season, so you really get a small window to do these plays. And when you're getting to play Richard III or when you're getting to play Margaret, or Dido or whatever, you only have a handful of performances, not in comparison to other theaters, but certainly in comparison to what we do here. So, you really have to try and savor every single one, and even though you may be tired because you did another show that morning, it's one more chance to do it and to get it right and to affect an audience and to relish the time with that role. It's limited.

Where do you place Margaret in your career?

SARAH: Oooh. Well, certainly getting to do her in all four parts, it's way up there if not number one. I mean, I don't know anybody else really who's gotten to do that in a professional theater. I really do think she's overlooked a lot. If you ask actresses who they want to play before they die, you're going to hear Cleopatra, you're going to hear Lady Macbeth. You're probably not going to hear Margaret, and it's just because I don't think people know these plays, and I don't think they relish her the way that they should. But she's kind of this undiscovered heroine. It's wonderful.

Are you going to miss her?

SARAH: Oh yeah, yeah, very much. It's been an amazing journey and I will miss her. I will miss her, very much.

BEN: Lady Macbeth has the reputation that Margaret should have.

SARAH: Yes. Yes.

BEN: Lady Macbeth is like in three scenes of that play.

SARAH: And one play. She only gets the one. Margaret gets four.

BEN: She has like this iconic status, but at the end of the day, she wishes she were half as tough as Margaret. She has this reputation of being this cold-blooded tough girl, she's...

SARAH and BEN: Not.

BEN: She's not tough. She goes crazy. She can't handle it. Margaret doesn't do any of that. Margaret dishes it out, takes it, throws it back.

See, you do respect Margaret.

BEN and SARAH: Ben does.

SARAH: Don't get it confused. Richard does not, Ben does.

Double-edged question here: Richard is one of your favorite plays. Has playing it been everything you hoped it would? And second part of the question, has playing it as the fourth part of the tetralogy made it even sweeter?

BEN: It's been great. It's been great. I was very nervous. Having played it on the heels of the other two, I feel like the expectations were really high. I was nervous to do it without a director, a part this big. I was nervous to do it with as little as 10 days of rehearsal. But I was saved, I think in large part, because we came on the heels of the other plays the cast brought an energy to the production. I think everybody sort of wanted this production to be very good. It was nice to not have to be like, "Gee, I sure hope they are working hard on that scene in there and that it's not going to totally tank what I'm trying to do out here."

The other thing about not having a director is when you have as many lines as Richard has and when you cut the script, it's like you've got ideas about what you want to do. You don't want to come across as a tyrant, but for the most part people were just—

SARAH: Tell us what you want.

BEN: For the most part people are up for anything, so I thank them for that. Especially when it comes to stuff like, can we smash Hasting's head into the table? I know nowhere in the script does it say that we have to do that, but can we do that? Can we kick Hasting's head around like a soccer ball? I think we should do something fun with this head. All right. Or going to Jeremy [West, member of the troupe and fight captain] and going, "I want to fight four people here. I want to fight three people here. One is not enough, let's see what else we can do here." And people are like, "Let's try to make it happen."

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: And my expectations were for them to say, "Why?" My expectations for them would be like, "What are you talking about?" But instead it's always met with, "OK. We'll be there. Just tell us exactly what you want us to do."

Did anybody bring any surprises to you?

BEN: Yes! My favorite one in terms of surprise is Brandi Rhome who plays young Richard of York and asks if she can have my dagger. This is our first day of rehearsing that scene. She says, "Can I have the dagger?" I give it to her, and I put my hand out for her to give it back to me, and she takes it and she puts it on the floor and kicks it over to me. And we hadn't discussed it, she just said, "This is what I'm going to do." I looked at that woman with real hate. [Laughter] I was impressed, I was really impressed. I did not expect that at all. "But you got one over on me, you little s--t. And I'm going to have to bend my crippled ass over and pick this up, aren't I? I hope you're pleased with yourself." And she was. Or at least Richard of York was.

SARAH: Oh yeah.

BEN: Oh God, it was great. It was great. It was just one of those moments. I love these things in rehearsals where there was no discussion involved, it was just, "I'm going to do this," and I'm going, "Don't you ever do anything other than that. I hate you more than anything for doing it, don't ever stop." Brilliant. Then when I reached over to get it I went, "Because you knew you wanted to jump on my back, didn't you?" And she was like, "Yeah, that's sort of the point." And I was like, "Oh, so you're thinking 10 steps ahead, young Richard!" One of the advantages of not having an actual little boy play the part, I guess. She's got an adult mind. And I feel like those princes are parts that you could just toss away, so I was happy that there's something that's less than forgettable. [Laughter] It's certainly memorable.

They were certainly the most memorable princes I think I've ever seen. I've never quite understood why Richard is mad at York, and they say his mother put [York] up to it. I've read the lines, I've seen it, and I never quite get what's going on there until I saw this one and I realized he's, he's—

BEN: He's a smart-ass.


BEN: The other thing is, in terms of backstory, I really think that because those princes are from Elizabeth I feel like they were raised with, "Your half brother is Gray, but your uncle is Rivers, not Richard." But Richard is like, "Oh no no no, I'm your uncle too. I'm your old Uncle Dick." That's why I love that scene. It's innocuous on paper but I think there's something really terrifying about it. Sarah walks in as the prince with this priest who's accompanied her expecting to see this huge group, and certainly her Uncle Rivers and Hastings, her dad's best friend, running right over. And, instead, she meets the uncle she was brought up to distrust and hate, standing there going, "Welcome to London, I'm here to take care of you."

SARAH: Ooooooh.

BEN: First thing she says is, "I wanted more uncles here to welcome me." "I bet you did. But they're dangerous and I had to take care of them for you." She goes, "Uh, oh, all right."

SARAH: Where's my mom?

BEN: It's all about, where are the people who actually care about me? What are you doing here? Is this the way it's going to be? Yes, it is the way it's going to be. Get used to it, kiddo.

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