Idaho Shakespeare Festival: Couple plays both sides of ‘King Richard III’

Shakespeare’s tragic history becomes contemporary political thriller.

doland@idahostatesman.comAugust 9, 2013 

idaho shakespeare festival, shakespeare, king richard, lynn berg

Lynn Robert Berg and Laura Welsh Berg play Richard III and Lady Anne in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “King Richard III.”

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

  • KING RICHARD III

    8 p.m. Aug. 9 (preview), Aug. 10 (opening night), 7 p.m. Aug. 11 (family night) and dates through Aug. 31, Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. $30-$41 Fridays-Saturdays, $24-$33 Sundays and Tuesdays-Thursdays. Preview (Aug. 9): $25 reserved, $18 general. Family night (Aug. 11): $33 reserved, $25 general, $12 children 6-17. Any night, students with valid ID $18 at 336-9221 and IdahoShakespeare.org.

  • THE REAL RICHARD

    In August 2012, archaeologists in England discovered the real Richard’s grave. After he was killed in the battle of Bosworth, Richard was buried in a shallow grave in a church in Leicester. The bones were discovered 2 feet under a parking lot and in February identified through DNA as Richard’s.

    The discovery doesn't affect the play, however it sparked renewed interest in the tale.

Lynn Robert Berg and his wife, Laura Welsh Berg, enjoy a unique connection through the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and even more so through the play they’re currently working on — “King Richard III.”

That’s because both have played the character of Richard: Lynn in ISF’s production, which opens this weekend, and Laura earlier this year in a gender-bending production at DePaul University, where she just finished her master’s in theater.

It’s odd that a husband and wife would play the same character, especially this one in a play of such epic scope.

“It was kind of weird,” Lynn says. “She’s big into all the history and we’d talk about some of the relationships. But I remember in the spring there was this definite moment where we split off. I’d say, ‘I think this is what this is about,’ and she’d say ‘I don’t agree,’ and that was that.”

In truth, their productions are vastly different, and not just because Laura’s was set in a “Tron”-inspired future and Lynn’s, under the direction of Joe Hanreddy, is set in contemporary times.

The dramatic differences come from the adaptation process. Both were about the same length, but each director made very different choices.

“The editing really changed the relationships, and that’s what the play is really about,” Laura says. “He (Lynn) saw my Richard, and the more we talked about the actory stuff the more I started giving him the space to find his own thing. For us, it was about finding the balance between when Lynn wanted information and when it was time for me to shut up.”

In this production, Laura plays Lady Anne, the beautiful and vulnerable widow of Richard’s brother. Richard seduces her on his way to the throne.

For Laura, switching to the other side of that scene is a mindbender.

“I really have to figure out what’s going on for her that allows him in,” she says. “The change happens in about eight lines. When I did Richard, I came at her with everything I had. Now I’m on the receiving end. This is karma coming back to me.”

Richard is a usurper. With little right to the power he craves, he lies and murders his way to the top. She is just one step on his path.

“The thing that makes Richard so cool and so scary is the way he can manipulate people and trick them and he’s so good at it, it surprises even him,” Lynn says. “This scene is a perfect example. He’s working so hard to get her and when he finally does it, it’s so fast even he can’t believe it. He’s like ‘what just happened?’”

Lynn started at ISF at age 20 as an intern in 1998. He was a student at Boise State University then where his father, also named Lynn, is a professor of voice and opera theater. Berg’s mother, Linda, taught voice in Meridian and Boise schools for years and also leads the Opera Idaho Children’s Chorus.

He and Laura met eight years ago doing “A Christmas Carol” at Great Lakes Theater, ISF’s sister company in Cleveland. By the time they came to Boise the following summer, they were in love, Laura says. They married the following year. Today they live in Chicago and divide their time between there, Cleveland — where Laura grew up — and, of course, summers in Lynn’s hometown of Boise.

This is the biggest role of Lynn Robert Berg’s career so far.

Some of his most challenging work comes in his soliloquies. Like Iago in “Othello,” Richard deceives his fellow characters in the drama, then he speaks the blatant truth to the audience.

Those are tough scenes, because so much depends on the audience because you’re talking right to them, he says.

“It’s scary,” he admits. “In a dark moment here and there I wonder why I’m doing this, but that’s why you do it. It’s scary and thrilling and you have a lot of pressure on your hunchbacked shoulders.”

HISTORY AND CHARACTER

“Richard III” is one of Shakespeare’s histories, plays that focus on English monarchs and their times, exploring ideas of kingly virtues.

This play looks at the final chapter of the Wars of the Roses, years of conflict (1455 to 1485) over the crown that ended with Richard’s death and put Henry Tudor — Elizabeth I’s grandfather — on the throne.

It’s one of Shakespeare’s early works and is possibly the first play The Bard wrote alone, Hanreddy says.

“If you look at the plays that came before, you can see they were written by a team,” Hanreddy says. “It’s like writing a TV show today. You got an A and a B plot being crafted by different writers and you hope it comes together in the end.”

The real Richard III, who was born with a hunchback, ruled for two years before being killed in battle. During his reign, the historian John Rous praised him as a “good lord” with “a great heart.”

The Richard of Shakespeare’s making is very different.

He’s a sometimes charming, always devious, Machiavellian villain — one of the greatest literary villains of all time. And although he has this disability, he’s also a feared warrior. This production — set in 2013 — also asks the actor to bring a layer of subtlety to the role, so the shifts of power become more nuanced — until Richard seizes power completely. Then all bets are off.

“Having someone like Lynn in the role who can convince you of both (his physical flaws and cunning) adds to his power,” Hanreddy says. “He’s a very physical actor with a booming voice.”

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