Play 7: Richard III (Riverside Theatre, Iowa City, Iowa)

2009 June 21

The trip to Iowa City, Iowa–I knew–wouldn’t take that long (maybe 5 hours tops), but for some reason I just wasn’t having luck with getting a hotel through Priceline.com. I think my neighbor reflects the attitude that many people have in using a service such as Priceline.com (no, this is not a paid announcement…though the company should sponsor me on this trip with as many times I name drop “Priceline.com”). He said, my neighbor: “I always thought it was a shot in the dark using that service” and for the most part that is not true. Sure, you don’t exactly know what hotel you’ll be staying at, but you can control four variables: where you want to stay (in larger cities, there are sometimes many areas to choose from), when you want to stay, how much you want to spend (when you use the “Name your own price” feature), and how nice of a place you want to stay in (a mostly accurate star system from four stars being the best and one star being, well, cheap). Being on a tight budget for this summer, I knew that I would be using Priceline.com to schedule all of my accommodations. For the most part, I allocated a maximum of $50 a night for hotel rooms and I have consistently been under that amount by using the website. Sure, there have been two times thus far where I’ve stayed in rooms that are exactly inviting me to stay another night, but sleeping is more of a main concern on this trip rather than the list of amenities. The previous sentence, though, wouldn’t be entirely accurate today.

I really liked my room at the Holiday Inn–Aladdin Hotel in Downtown Kansas City, MO. I liked lobby and the staff and I liked my room and the bed and the free internet access. And I decided to sleep in a bit because I knew that I won’t be getting great rooms such as this all the time and I also knew that I would probably be driving home after the “Richard III” performance in Iowa City, Iowa. So I slept in and got a 6-mile run in and took a shower and asked for a later check-out time of 11:30 a.m. so I could just stop sweating from running in +86f weather. I tried Priceline.com for a room at my price in Iowa City, Iowa and even Davenport, Iowa and still no acceptance of rooms on my terms. I got my stuff together making sure that my sweaty running clothes didn’t touch anything else (I really need to find another solution to the spent running clothes in Target bag), checked out and was back on the road.

I consulted Karen about a Starbucks once I got out of town on I-35 and even though she said turn left, I turned right–for I had a visual on the Starbucks “that way.” Karen patiently was trying to “Ri-Calc-oo-ate-ing” while I pulled in and got my grande Pikes Place in a venti cup and one of those sausage breakfast sandwiches. I was pretty excited (I think I might have even texted Lori about this) that the price for a gallon of gas in that part of Missouri was $2.35: about 40 cents cheaper than back home in Indiana. Amazing that something as relative as the price of gas makes us excited like that, though I was on a budget and presently my biggest expense on my trips thus far has been petrol.

I got into Iowa City with about 3 hours to spare so I drove through the University of Iowa to give myself some bearings of the town and then made my way over to a mall with a Barnes and Noble. As I was walking in it dawned on me at a possible reason why I couldn’t get a hotel room this night: it was freshman orientation weekend at U of I and starry eyed high school graduates where trying to look interested and grown up whiles their families tagged along side the budding college freshman. It’s not my favorite position to be in: the person in a new context. I didn’t envy them very much, the kids being orientated to the University. Besides, like most new contexts, the anxiety wears off by week two.

After doing some typing and browsing the computer magazines, I made my way over to the Lower City Park, chowed down a Clif Bar and a banana and walked to the Riverside Theatre Festival Stage twenty minutes before show time.

This was one of the smaller, more intimate theater experiences so far with about the same amount of seating a the smaller theater at the PA Shakespeare Festival. It feels much like a smaller Globe Theater with no walls on the side, but heavy tarps strung between the poles to give the theater an open but not bare exposure to the park around. No roof was overhead. I had a nice seat toward the back house right, but moved over a couple of seats as to not block the couple sitting behind me.

I liked Richard III from the beginning and I like the idea that there’s no outside influences or misunderstandings about who the bad guy is. In fact, Richard, Duke of Gloucester tells us, the audience, from on the outset: I’m a bit pathetic looking and I’m going to get the girl and I’m going to get the throne. I like that in a Shakespearean character. Most of the time we just smile and nod and then watch the main character get tricked or what that character make some bad choices and we feel bad for the whole situation. Not with Richard (soon to be number three): he’s a villain and he is manipulative and he gets what he wants eventually. In fact, the actor playing Richard looked a lot like Hugh Laurie (“Dr. House”) which added yet another reading of this Richard character with his parallels with Dr. House. Pop culture references aside, this Richard’s deformity was represented by a bum leg in a brace and a withered hand (which did look pathetic when he showed it to us during in one of his opening speeches).

I think from a text standpoint, I like Richard III the best out of the seven plays I’ve seen thus far. That probably is influenced by the acting in this production and possibly has something to do with a bad guy who really and knowingly destroys a lot of people and who in the end, gets what he deserves. We want some type of repentance in the last Act and perhaps we get “Well, I do feel bad for the stuff I have done” in the end. Also, I probably liked the text in this play because it’s the one I am least familiar with and haven’t seen it on stage (I might have seen a version on DVD, but that was awhile ago).

Interestingly, I noted that yesterday’s production of Merry Wives had been the fifth consecutive classic rendering of a Shakespeare play and wouldn’t you know that this production would depart from that line and be set in a World War I setting. And the nice this is that did not at all distract from the text or the production. I also liked the rest of the cast from the butler-looking Buckingham to the strong-willed Queen Elizabeth, along with characters.

What I did find distracting in this production was my fellow audience members. Noises are par for an outside production (the birds and the insects were especially vocal in this venue). Even the occasion passer-by will yell something or rev their motorcycle, but my fellow seatmates were a bit more louder than usual. And I think it had something to do with a person that needed something, but a loud whisper is talking and a few of us turned to see what the problem was. Also, and it’s just one of those things, one of the speakers on the left was torn or cracked so that whenever they’d be some loud dramatic music or the war scene in the last act, that speaker simply tanked and took away from the moment. I know these things happen, but this is the first time that it has happened on in the venues I’ve seen so far.

But these distractions to me didn’t seem to phase the actors at all and I was able to jump back into the story quickly because the actors were still in the story. It was, really, a very good performance and perhaps my slight irritation came from being much closer to the stage than I had since “Complete Works.” You get a lot when you are that close and after the curtain call I left knowing that I would be rereading Richard III again and possibly trying to find a way to work it into one of my classes. It’s such a strong text and the strong performance made it easy for me to like Richard III.

I stopped for gas a couple miles outside Iowa City and spent $9.87 on stuff to make the drive home enjoyable and alert: a sandwich, a bottle of Smart Water and two cans of Starbucks energy drink (which I normally don’t drink, but I would need the energy and caffeine for the 5 hour drive ahead). My trip was helped along by listening to a four-disc set chronicling the 30-year journey of The Who. I’ve heard that I should know The Who a bit more and I thought this might be a good introduction to the influential band.

The Who definately aided in keeping me awake through the night and I would finish the last disc just outside the Goshen exit off the 20-bypass. My only excitement along the way was being stopped by a state patrol officer 35 mintues from home going 62 in a 55 mph zone. I think he was making sure I wasn’t drinking and after checking my license and registration he wished me on my way because a shooting was being reported on his radio. I’m not a fan of the all-night drive, but this one seemed to make sense. Besides, it was Fathers Day today and I wouldn’t going out until Saturday (six days at home: my longest stretch at home for the entire summer). I would be able to work that summer list down a bit and spend some time hanging out with Lori and the boys. For now, though, I would get some sleep in my own bed at home.

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