UCSB presents two free shows of Shakespeare’s history plays before a short tour
DEATH OF KINGS: SEIZE THE CROWN
Where: UCSB’s Theater Dance West Studio 1507
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Information: www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu or 805-893-2064
In 2016, Irwin Appel compressed Shakespeare’s history plays, all eight of them, down into a manageable two-evening, five-hour tale, the stage equivalent of binge-watching a season or two of Game of Thrones. So many characters! So many battles! So much bravery and betrayal! A mix of working Santa Barbara actors (like Brian Harwell and Jeff Mills) and student actors, it was a hit.
Three years later, Appel has reduced the sauce even further: “Death of Kings: Seize the Crown” is now a scant 90 minutes, and after its two performances at UCSB is set to hit the road for performances in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona with an all-student cast. The play received its European premiere (albeit with a non-UCSB cast) at the Prague Shakespeare Company’s Summer Shakespeare Intensive in 2017.
“I am not interested in creating museum piece Shakespeare, or even paying homage to English history,” Appel says in the production’s press kit. “I am trying to produce an allegory for our time and make raw, energetic, vibrant Shakespeare using the power of the actor and the word.”
While some complexities are lost in the compression of these works, what takes its place is a selection of character arcs, like watching Prince Hal evolve from palling around with Falstaff to ascending to the throne as Henry V, or seeing Richard III making his first entrance as York’s son, not the villainous subject of his more familiar eponymous play.
Olivia Nathan is one of the student actors in this production, playing both Lady Percy and Lady Grey (as well as other bit parts). In 2016 she was a brand new UCSB student and it’s fair to say Death of Kings changed her life. There was something about this two night production—she wound up seeing it a total of five times.
“I was a ridiculously eager freshman and just fell in love with the show and the department,” she admits. “I was just blown away by the acting. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and we didn’t have that kind of theater at all. That’s why I’m here.”
She planted herself in Irwin Appel’s office for five weeks after that, picking his brain, and waiting until she could actually audition for the BFA program.
“I think he was super excited that I was about to finally to be a part of (Death of Kings),” she says, when Appel announced he was starting up a new production this year. There were no auditions for the BFA program—Appel handpicked the roles for each student, based on what he knew for each student.
“The play moves so fast, 90 minutes,” she says, “We’ll be backstage saying wait, we’re already at Henry VI? How did we get here? I call it the ‘Sparks Notes’ version of the Histories.”
The rehearsals have also been compacted, and Appel has told actors like Nathan to forget everything she remembers about the 2016 version, she says.
“He’s pushing us to find new ideas…and we have complete creative freedom.”
After these shows, Arizona beckons, with shows at Tailiesin West in Scottsdale and the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix.
“It’s our first professional tour and we’re so excited,” she says. “I don’t think any of us expected to be doing this in our senior year…It’s me and all my best friends doing a show together.”