When I take part in a discussion about the relevancy of Shakespeare, usually my answer is “hell no, let it die.” Shakespeare is archaic, it is difficult to understand, and any “-ism” of today’s culture exists somewhere in the canon. I’m most irked about the fact that it’s hard to understand. For me, my little brother, my parents, my neighbors, and sometimes my high school English teacher. I’m glad Shakespeare in the park is free because otherwise I would never willingly spend my money to sit and have something go over my head for +3 hours. This all being said, there are some redeemable qualities to Willy and his work. Romeo + Juliet starring Leo DiCaprio never fails to make me cry, I am always entertained by the angst of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and She’s The Man starring Amanda Bynes is one of my favorite movies, and it’s a current day adaptation of Twelfth Night. If somebody makes the effort to make Shakespeare converse with today, I will give credit where credit is due.
I was very moved by the work of John Belluso and making theatre accessible and equally open to artists who are disabled or impaired in any way, shape, or form. Currently The Gift Theatre Company is putting on a production of Richard III in collaboration with The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The “relevant” part of this production is that Richard, the character who within the play is described as “rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d” and cannot “strut before a wanton ambling nymph,” has a wheelchair instead of a hump. The Gift’s event page describes the production as “re-defin[ing] what (dis)ability and Shakespeare’s great villain look like by utilizing both a disabled actor in the title role as well as assistive devices past and present as articulations of Richard’s protean identity, character, and self-perception.”
The lead actor, Michael Patrick Thornton is an actor who can walk with the assistance of a walker, and this progression is made throughout the course of the show. Richard traps Anne within his walker, transitions out of his chair as he seduces her, and eventually begins to use a ReWalk exoskeleton during Act 2, the first use in a live theatrical production, as said by The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Within our discussion of what actors can play what parts, I think that Thorton’s personal story is unique to the production. Thornton suffered from a spinal stroke in 2003 that left him paralyzed from the neck down and through rehabilitation at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago was eventually able to walk with a walker though not able to have full mobility in either of his hands. This actor’s particular journey and relationship with his own mobility tied into the journey of Richard is one that I think can make Shakespeare relevant to today.
Read a Chicago Tribune review of the production here !