William Shakespeare tends to be a divisive artist. Readers either revere his work as classic or denounce it as dated and confusing. The Alliance Theatre challenges the latter by bringing forth a modern adaptation of “Richard III,” called “Seize the King.” Written by Will Power and directed by Michael John Garcés, this production exemplifies that Shakespeare’s plays are not old, but remain as relevant and accessible as ever. I was swept up in their story of ambition and greed from start to finish and found myself easily able to enter into the oftentimes intimidating world of Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare’s “Richard III” is the final installment of what is known as the Henriad, a series of eight history plays following the War of the Roses detailing the tribulations of the English monarchy. “Seize the King” opens with the death of King Edward IV and the question of who will succeed him. His son, Prince Edward (Shakirah Demesier), is still too young to take the throne, and Richard of Gloucester (Travis Turner), King Edward IV’s younger brother, sees that as an opportunity. He lets his ambition run wild as he devises a plan to become King, teaming up with the corrupt Sir Hastings (Allan Edwards) and stopping at nothing to get what he wants. Queen Elizabeth (Tangela Large) works to protect her son and her country from the destruction of Richard. It is a story of what happens when power falls into the wrong hands. 

“Seize the King” features a minimal cast with only five actors, each taking up one or two roles each. The production is noteworthy in that four of the five actors are black, a significant feat since Shakespearean castings usually lack people of color, and rarely do these thespians land a leading role. It was both refreshing and empowering to watch the cast own the story, and reminds us, especially during Black History Month, that representation is as important as ever, especially in the white-dominated industry of theater.  

Power’s adaptation of “Richard III” uses anachronistic language, costumes and set design to transpose Elizabethan England into current times. While most of the dialogue remains true to the text, moments of contemporary speech dispersed throughout the play make the story more accessible, while adding a humorous cadence to the production. Costumes of colorful printed leggings, thigh-high boots, and yellow and blue power suits not only help aid the modern twist, but are visually pleasing as well. The barren set is the perfect haunting canvas upon which to create the story of violence. Grey cement walls with only one sliding door at the back serve as the perfect pressure cooker for the conflict. You can feel the stress of the characters build through the prison-like set.

In putting a contemporary twist on a classic show, the theme of corrupt politics runs parallel with the modern political climate. As Richard III is murdered by those he harmed during the final scene of the play, his killers look out to the audience and ask, “When he comes back, wilt thou be ready?” This is a reminder that, while “Seize the King” seems to put forth a situation unique to old England, we still live in a world where our leaders rule unchecked. Aggression, assault, blackmail and lies are still very much a part of our political system. “Seize the King” is the perfect wake-up call, highlighting the relevance of staying informed, alert and ready to act. 

“Seize the King” brings the brutal story of a power hungry leader to the Alliance Theatre. It is haunting, striking the audience at their core. We are rallied through this play, reminded of our current political state and what we must do if we want to enact change. If you are looking for a show that balances violence and comedy, that showcases a terrific black cast or maybe even motivates you to vote, you definitely won’t want to miss “Seize the King.” 

Where: Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre

When: Now until March 8, 2020

Tickets: Teenagers get tickets for $10. Otherwise, tickets cost $55.

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Sophia LiBrandi (22C) is from Dayton, Ohio, majoring in creative writing and minoring in women's, gender and sexuality studies. Outside of the Wheel, LiBrandi enjoys poetry, theatre and wandering around art museums. She was recently accepted into the Praxis student leadership board through the Center for Women at Emory. Contact LiBrandi at sophia.ruth.librandi@emory.edu.