PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Richard III and Twelfth Night — Belly Up to the Bard, Boys

By Harry Haun
11 Nov 2013

Paul Chahidi
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In another revelatory Broadway debut, Chahidi rates a Best Supporting Actress nomination for his incredible character work as Maria, a role nobody seems to have noticed before. "Neither did I," the actor confessed. "When I was offered it, my heart didn't leap. It wasn't Malvolio. It wasn't Viola. It wasn't Olivia. It wasn't any of the main comic parts that you usually notice, and I thought, 'Okay, this'll be interesting. Let's do it.' And, to be honest, in rehearsal I thought I had the most boring person in the room. I felt, 'I'm just delivering plot,' which is what she does quite a lot of, but I grew to love this character. There's so much that's not written. It's not a very fully written part on the page, but there's so many gaps that Shakespeare has left to fill."

He played a woman once before, "when I was 14, at school. That was the last time." He's a bit awed by Broadway: "It's the biggest thrill I've ever had. I didn't know what to expect. I think I was quite nervous to do two Shakespeares in the heart of Commercial Theatre Land because Shakespeare is quite a hard sell. It is in London even, in the West End. But I've just been astonished at how receptive the audiences have been here and how intelligent they are and how much they're enjoying it."

Lanky and dignified, Angus Wright seemed closer off-stage to the cunning Duke of Buckingham than to the clownish Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He exhibited proper swagger-and-dash in the first, "and," he said, finishing the sentence, "idiocy in the second." But he doesn't love one role more than the other. "I love doing Aguecheek because I understand the guy, and playing the comedy is good, but, as double roles go, it's wonderful. I love the intelligence of Buckingham and speaking verse. I speak no verse as Aguecheek, whereas Buckingham's all verse. So that, as a Shakespearean contrast, is great for an actor — to speak verse and then prose. It's a workout!

"Buckingham is a part that requires an intellect because he is 'a witty,' and that Elizabethan term is less about making jokes and humor and more about intelligence and sharp-sighted view about where things are going. So there's a politician in one, and then there's Aguecheek who says, 'I hate politicians.' He doesn't understand the idea of anyone who has an argument about things that isn't about 'Let's fight it out.'

"With Buckingham, what I try to do is to resist the temptation to follow Richard blindly. He's the diplomat with the Machiavellian Richard. He's trying to find a way to deal with the princes — send them off to France or Scotland, get them out of the way. You don't have to kill them. For Buckingham, that's the turning point."

Offstage, Liam Brennan has a thick Irish brogue that he doesn't have onstage. As Orsino, he beautifully speaks the famous line that commences the complicated playing-around that follows in Twelfth Night: "If music be the food of love, play on." As Clarence, Richard's luckless and short-lived brother, he doesn't say an awful lot.

"Today was great," he assessed, "very buzzy. We've been previewing a while, but it felt special — two lovely audiences, very warm." And what does one do between Shakespeares? "Eat," he laughed. "Today the break was about an hour and a half so by the time you changed and showered and eaten something, it's time to go again."

As Twelfth Night's Feste, Peter Hamilton Dyer carries the heaviest singing load, and he carries it well. "It's the most musical of his plays,' he noted. "'O Mistress Mine,' the first song, has a traditional arrangement that goes with those words. The other two main songs have been put together. Claire van Kampen, the musical director, found music of the time that she felt would go well with the words from the text."