Directed by: William Wolfgang, Maria Nguyen-Cruz, and Angel Nunez
Merced, CA (2020)
Ricardo II (2020)
by: Abby Williamson
For the fall 2020 Shakespearefest, the Merced Shakespearefest theater company of Merced, California moved their outdoor production of Richard II online, releasing it as a twelve-part bilingual series entitled Ricardo II. Directed by William Wolfgang, adapted by Wolfgang, Maria Nguyen-Cruz, and Kathryn Flores, and with translations by Angel Nunez, and shot around Merced, California, the production uses a gender, age, and colorblind cast that delivers Shakespeare’s play in equal parts English and Spanish. With the accompanying subtitles switching alongside the changes in language, neither Spanish nor English speakers feel alienated by the production’s dual-language adaptation.
Heike Hambley founded Merced Shakespearefest as “a community theater by the community and for the community.” The production showcases this mission of inclusion with its language accessibility and use of public spaces around Merced. While the play uses minimal sets (public parks, pavilions, and buildings) as well as props and costumes (only a crown and scepter), the production is high quality and even includes an original theme song.
The first of the twelve episodes and opens with a scene not in the original Richard II. The audience witnesses Bolingbroke with Mowbray finding the body of the Duke of Gloucester. Accusations are thrown around when the fourth-wall is broken by Aumerio (Duke of Aumerle) played by Diana Lara who admits to the murder under Richard’s order and sneers at the in-fighting it causes. The choice to add this scene gives audiences unfamiliar with the play context for Bolingbroke’s rebellion. Only implied in Shakespeare’s version, this scene makes explicit Richard’s hand in Gloucester’s death. Episode 9, “Some Other Diversion,” revisits Aumerio’s hand in the death of Gloucester in another added scene not original to the play. These additions add more intrigue and action to a play where not much action happens. In the final scene it is Aumerio who presents Ricardo’s body to the newly crowned Henry Bolingbroke as a means of proving his loyalty, not the minor character of Exton in the original. Aumerio’s loyalty to the Crown rather than the person who wears it smartly underlines Shakespeare’s question of divine ordination.
The rest of the production remains faithful to Shakespeare’s original play with a few scenes cut or abridged. For a play that has relatively little action and hinges primarily on lengthy speeches all written in verse, the choice of which lines to put in Spanish and which to put in English is all the more important. Ricardo, played by Alejandro Gutiérrez, delivers the “hollow crown” speech first in Spanish then English and finally again in Spanish. He describes the taunting Antic in English but the most moving portion of the speech, in which he expresses his need for friends, is left to Spanish.
Some characters, such as Queen Isabella played by Claudia Boehm, deliver all their lines in Spanish, while others perform primarily in English such as Heike Hambley’s John of Gaunt. Some dialogues such as the exchange between John of Gaunt and the Duke of York in the third episode are delivered with one side in Spanish and the other in English. It is clear that some actors are simply more comfortable in one language while some can switch effortlessly. Diana Lara uses both Spanish and English as Aumerio but is much more relaxed and expressive in Spanish, while Northumberland played by Harker Hale delivers his lines primarily in English and a Spanish tutor for him is listed in the credits. The variety of methods in which each language is utilized showcases how bilingualism is not always as simple as half the words being in one language and the other half in the other.
While the changes with the added scenes are unusual, they offer audiences unfamiliar with the play a more obvious view of Richard II’s court and the causes of insurrection that would eventually lead to the War of the Roses. Overall, the play is successful in using both languages in a myriad of ways that feels authentic to those who are bilingual and semi-bilingual. The cast moves between the languages with ease just as many Spanish-speaking and Spanish-proficient Americans do in their daily lives. Writing, performing, and subtitling a fully bilingual Richard II is no easy task, but Merced Shakespearefest pulls it off. The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many annual productions of Shakespeare plays postponed or canceled due to limits on gatherings, but Merced Shakes took this opportunity to create a high-quality production completely free and accessible to English and Spanish speakers alike.
Merced Shakes. “Merced Shakespearefest.” MercedShakespeareFest.Org. Accessed July 27, 2022.
Cymbeline Anthropocene, “Ricardo II: Finale,” Cymbeline-Anthropocene.com. 30 Mar 2021.
Cathryn Flores, “UC Merced Debuts Innovative Bilingual Web Series: Shakespeare’s Ricardo II,” UC Merced Arts, Arts.UCMerced.edu, 4 Sep 2020.
William Wolfgang and Erin Sullivan, “Ricardo II: una producción bilingüe de Merced Shakespearefest,” Lockdown Shakespeare: New Evolutions in Performance and Adaptation, eds. Gemma Kate Allred, Benjamin Broadribb, and Erin Sullivan. London: The Arden Shakespeare (2022), 161-170.