Recently third-year actors Rob Aramayo, Jasmine Batchelor, Justin Barnes, and Therese Barbato chatted with adjunct drama faculty member Shana Komitee about this year's Shakespeare repertory productions. As You Like It, which is directed by Jenny Lord, opens May 7. Richard III, which is directed by Harris Yulin, opens May 10.
What are your favorite lines?
Barbato: Mine from As You Like It is when the evil duke banishes Rosalind, and Celia [Barbato’s character] says, “Then pronounce that sentence then on me, my liege, I cannot live out of her company.” That’s what the play is about: it’s such a beautiful and open pledge of love for her best friend.
Aramayo: My favorite from Richard III [Aramayo plays the title character] is, “Richard loves Richard, that is, I am I.” That line is a total explosion of his conscience. We never see Richard in this way. Exploring that speech has really opened the play up for me, because finding those moments makes Richard a human being and not just a two-dimensional character.
Barnes: My favorite line is in As You Like It, right after Oliver [the character Barnes plays] has devised this plan to kill his brother, Orlando: “Now I shall stir this gamester … that I am altogether misprized.” In As You Like It, characters don’t have that much time to speak to the audience, but this is one moment Oliver can share. He can be seen as evil, but here he’s revealing this deep, dark jealousy and truly shows his humanity.
Batchelor: Mine is in Richard III, where Lady Anne [Batchelor’s character, who later marries Richard] says to Richard: “I would I knew thy heart.” Because what woman hasn’t thought, “I wish I knew what you were thinking?” When you’re almost falling in love with someone you know you shouldn’t be falling in love with. There’s your conscience and your body and your brain all fighting—and that’s all summed up in one line: “I wish I knew.” Anyone who’s felt anything close to love can identify with that.
What is Richard III about?
Aramayo: I agree with Sir Ian McKellen. He said that it’s about the running of a country.
Barbato: I think it’s also about ambition. I loved Ian McKellen’s comparison of Macbeth to Richard—that Macbeth is Richard with a conscience. Both men have tremendous ambition, and I think it’s about the cost of having an ambition that large. It’s a messy, bloody affair. But Richard’s not just a guy who wants to run a country, he’s also a terribly deformed person and it’s also about what that does to a person’s psyche.
Rob, does your deformity still disgust you, as Richard?
Aramayo: It can. At times it shames me, like the moment when I fall—falling in the court, that’s embarrassing.
Batchelor: Sometimes I think it wins him some points. When I see his deformed hand, and see that he’s human, not just this devil. Something about seeing someone with a handicap brings empathy.
Barbato: This play is also about women. About how they don’t have any power. The men are running things and have all the power; but the women hold the passion and the anger and the truth.
Barnes: It’s so interesting that the women have the ability to curse and can prophesy. Like seers.
Batchelor: It’s because history repeats itself: The women keep birthing these men who keep making the same mistakes, over and over. The war they’re in has gone on and on. It’s just so hard to watch the women deal with this world that they have no control over.
Why do we still need to do Shakespeare?
Aramayo: There’s nothing like a Shakespeare play, if it’s done right. It can be really exciting if you just yield to it.
Barbato: For me, working on Shakespeare has been revelatory. It’s so true to life but you don’t always know that right away. What’s fun is that you start working on the scene, and by the end, you really see how authentic it is.
Barnes: I think it’s important that every actor do Shakespeare because of the things you can learn. It’s about the language. As an actor, it strengthens your tongue, your imagination.
What about the audience? Why should they come?
Barbato: In As You Like It, Celia finds a love letter that Orlando has written to Rosalind [Celia’s best friend]. He says all these things to her—that she has Helen’s face and Cleopatra’s majesty. I’ve made a choice to have the experience of reading this letter, which this guy has written to my best friend, be painful. Because I want to be told I look like Cleopatra—and I don’t want him to take her away from me! That’s something that I get to reveal to the audience, that I wouldn’t reveal to Rosalind. So the audience lets you expose parts of yourself that you’d maybe otherwise be embarrassed to expose.
Aramayo: For me, the audience feels like Richard III’s friends. I, the actor, feel excited to share this stuff, but Richard needs it. Seeing the audience engaged in what I’m doing, and wanting to hear my story, it’s a gratifying experience.
Have any of you performed plays in repertory before?
Batchelor: I have, with Julius Caesar and Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s nice to be able to live different lives throughout the course of the day, even though it can be hard when you’re singing in one play and mourning your husband in another. Sometimes you have no preparation time, but you just have to go.
Aramayo: The thing I love about my casting is that Adam [his As You Like It character] is the nicest person I’ve ever played.
How do you go from playing Richard, a killer, to Adam, a sweet man?
Aramayo: I think it’s easier that way [than going in the other direction].
Really? Because you’re like, thank God I don’t have to be a jerk anymore?
Aramayo: No, because I think Richard is a lovely man as well. [Surprised reactions from the others.]
O.K., let’s talk about that! Is Richard a lovely man, everyone?
Batchelor: He can be.
Barbato: Absolutely not!
Barnes: He’s misunderstood.
Barbato: No, not misunderstood! He’s a complicated man, fine. But he’s by no means a good man.
Barnes: It’s awesome how humorous he can be, though. I think you can play this play dead serious and dark—or it can be a comedy. But that’s a fine balance.
Batchelor: But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a horrible person.
Barnes: He’s flawed.
Barbato: He murders everyone! He murders his brother and two children! I think the way the play ends is a judgment that someone who’s as flawed as Richard can’t lead well, can’t lead in peace. He’s a great con artist.
Aramayo: This is what I’m tackling at the moment. I don’t want people to be looking at me onstage, crying my eyes out because my brother Clarence is dead, and thinking, “What a great con artist.” I want them to think, “God, he’s heartbroken.”
Justin, you play Clarence. Does he love Richard?
Barnes: Yes, I think so. Even at his death, he talks about being Richard’s brother, that he “loves him well.” When the murderers reveal that Richard is the one who sent them, Clarence says “It can’t be so.” So Richard is a con artist, but I don’t think we should see him as a con artist. That’s the point: being a good con artist is being a chameleon.
Batchelor: If the audience thinks the whole time that Richard’s a con artist, then we look stupid. That we’re all falling for this.
Barbato: I think the audience should know that Richard doesn’t love Anne or want to marry her—but you’re watching him behave as if he did. That’s the tension: you’re watching someone who’s put upon so successfully that you understand why she would fall for him.
Gender is so complicated in Shakespeare. Jasmine, what’s it like to be wooed by such a deceptive man?
Batchelor: I think any person who has lost [as much as Anne] and then someone says, “I love you, I will kill myself for you”—it’s just human nature. We all want love. If it’s there, we’ll take it.