PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 2-8: Gloria Estefan, Pippin, The Glass Menagerie

By Robert Simonson
08 Feb 2013

Jeff McCarthy
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

William Kunstler isn't a name that conjures up much recognition these days. But in 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the biggest legal stars in counter-cultural circles. He made his name defending the "Chicago 7" in 1969 and in the years that followed there wasn't a lost cause or fringe character he wouldn't rush to represent, from members of the Black Panther Party to the Attica Prison rioters. He died in 1995.

Kunstler's achievements will be remembered in a new play by Jeffrey Sweet, the Chicago playwright whose book "The Dramatist's Toolkit" is a favorite of student playwrights. Called Kunstler, the play will star Jeff McCarthy as the attorney, and be directed by actress Annette O'Toole. It will play the Hudson Stage Company in Westchester County in April.

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Guthrie Theater announced the casting for actor Mark Rylance and writer Louis Jenkins' new play Nice Fish, which is also to star and be co-directed by Rylance in Minneapolis. The world-premiere run begins April 6.

Jenkins, you will recall, is the Midwestern poet whose work the quirky Rylance — to the confusion of many, and amusement of a select few — has twice quoted during his Tony Award acceptance speeches. Rylance has now collaborated with the poet on the piece that is set on the last day of ice fishing season in the Upper Midwest.

The Minneapolis production's cast also features Jim Lichtscheidl, Emily Swallow, Chris Carlson as Wayne, Bob Davis and Tyson Forbes.

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The biggest theatrical story of the week — maybe the biggest story, period, based on the reaction and readership it received — came out of England. It wasn't about a new production or a famous actor, but about a historical figure who is best known to the public as a stage character.

After 500 years of searching, archaeologists in England located and positively identified the skeletal remains of Richard III, the King of England famously dramatized by Shakespeare as a ruthless and charming villain.

Richard died in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, bringing his brief and bloody reign as king to an end. Richard's death brought to an end the Plantagenet line of monarchs. He was also the last English king to die in battle.

His body was found under a parking garage in Greyfriars, in Leicestershire, in August 2012. The garage was built over the site of a medieval friary; the monarch had been buried without a coffin. The remains were identified based on DNA samples taken from the skeleton, which matched that of a Michael Ibsen, who is a direct descendant of Richard III's sister, Anne of York. Another anonymous relative with blood ties to Anne of York was also involved.

The skeletal remains showed signs of scoliosis, which prompted Shakespeare's famous description of the ruler as a "bunch-backed toad." The bones also indicated battle wounds, with part of the skull sheared away as the result of eight head wounds. A piece of metal was also found in the spine.

Richard III will be reburied in a place more suitable to an English king (even if he was a terrible king): Leicester Cathedral. Some historians clamored for Richard to get a more royal internment, in Westminster Abbey. But, argued Tudor historian Dr. David Starkey, "Unless Westminster Abbey opens a villains' corner where we can put him, I think Leicester is quite appropriate. Frankly, he doesn’t make the grade."