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Daniel Wisniewski stars as the troubled king in the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s production of “Richard III.”(Photo: Photo by Stephen Ponton)Beginning Thursday, the Ithaca Shakespeare Company returns for another season to present “Richard III” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” The shows will be presented in rotating repertory through July 30 at Allen H. Treman State Marine Park on the shore of Cayuga Lake.”Richard III” brings to a close ISC’s cycle of the Bard’s English history plays, which began in February 2015 with “Richard II”; the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” returns for the first time since the summer of 2013.ISC artistic director Stephen Ponton answered a few questions via email about this year’s shows and what the future holds for the company.Q: How does it feel to have reached the end of your “history” series? Looking back, how do you think it’s gone so far?PONTON: On one hand, it’s very satisfying to have reached the final show in the history series it was a huge project, and we didn’t know going in whether we’d be able to see it all the way through. On the other hand, it’s a little sad not to have another play to look forward to!Overall, it’s been a great experience and I’m really glad we did it. These were some of the most challenging and exciting plays I’ve worked on, and it was fascinating to dive so deeply into the history of the period. You really start to feel like you know these historical figures.That effect is increased by the fact that a lot of the actors have been in multiple productions so when I’m talking to a new cast about what Richard II or Henry IV did, I can point across the room to the actors who played those characters in our previous shows. We have actors of different ages who have played the same character in different productions, actors who have played each other’s father or brother, and so on. It adds a fun dimension to the process.And “Richard III” really feels like the grand finale of the series, with so many characters from previous plays including ones who have been killed coming back to wrap things up.Check out these fantastic summer music festivalsQ: What makes Richard III such a compelling character?PONTON: Early in the play, Richard is a charming villain who does a great job of drawing the audience onto his side. He confides in the audience, shares his plans, and celebrates his victories with us. He’s smarter than everyone else, has a sharp sense of humor, and he’s so good at what he does that it’s hard not to enjoy watching him go about it even though we know he’s committing terrible crimes.There are also moments when he reveals more depth as a character an unhappy childhood,
the abuse he’s suffered his whole life for his physical disabilities, pangs of conscience over the things he’s done in his rise to power. These elements don’t excuse the terrible things he does, but they do provide some insight into his psychology, which adds another layer of interest to the character. Shuman, Danielle Bates and Sandra Sackey star in the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Photo: Photo by Stephen Ponton)Q: What spurred you to pair “Much Ado About Nothing” with “Richard III”?PONTON: I don’t think there was any particular connection between the plays in this case. We just generally try to pair a comedy with a more serious play in the summers, and “Much Ado” is a favorite show that we haven’t done in a number of years.Of course, as always in Shakespeare, there is a wide emotional range in both shows. So “Richard III” has a good bit of comedy in it, and “Much Ado” has some very serious moments. But overall, one show is darker and more serious and the other lighter and more comic, which shows off the range of our actors well. One of the most enjoyable things about having two shows in rep is that the audience can watch the same actors play very different parts in very different plays from one night to the next.Q: Is there anything especially timely about these shows?PONTON: I tend to think all Shakespeare is timely, because he was such a keen observer of human nature. There are moments in every play that still resonate strongly in our modern lives.”Richard III” may be one of the most timely of all of Shakespeare’s plays for the way it depicts Richard’s rise to political power. Stephen Greenblatt even wrote an essay for the New York Times titled “Shakespeare Explains The 2016 Election,” and it’s all about “Richard III.” One of the things he points out is that, even though England is ruled by a hereditary monarch in the play, Richard and Buckingham actually manufacture a popular election to put Richard in power. The rhetoric and manipulation of appearances that we see in that scene seems incredibly relevant to our world.Another interesting thing about “Richard III” is that archeologists recently found the remains of the actual Richard III in England, so there’s a lot of new information out there about the historical figure. He did in fact have scoliosis, so at least some aspects of the physical portrayal of Richard in Shakespeare’s play are true. The play brings up a number of important issues about the treatment of individuals with disabilities that are completely relevant today.As for “Much Ado,” the public accusations and defamation of character that we see in that play seem right at home in our modern world of social media and fake news.Annabelle Beaver (Elizabeth) and Judith Andrew (the Duchess of York) star in the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s production of “Richard III” (Photo: Photo by Stephen Ponton))Q: How has Treman Marine Park worked out so far as your venue since moving there in 2016?PONTON: We really enjoy working there. It’s such an idyllic spot, with the trees and the lake and the boats drifting by. We have fond memories of our time at Cornell Plantations, which of course is amazingly beautiful. But Treman Park works really well for these productions,
and the park management has been extremely helpful and supportive of what we’re doing.