WESTFIELD, NJ — Last year, archeologists found the remains what they believe to be King Richard III buried far beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. This find inspired Joseph Penczak, actor, director and founder of Westfield’s Troupe of Friends, to choose Richard III as the annual free Shakespeare in the park play this year.
“In the wintertime I usually look at the plays we haven’t done,” said Penczak. “I thought this might be the right time to play him.”
The performances at Mindowaskin Park will take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 28, 29 and 30, with an alternate rain venue at the Community Room in the municipal building at 425 E. Broad Street.
In the play, Richard is the power hungry brother of King Edward IV. When Edward dies, Richard has all those in line for the throne before him, including his nephews and sister-in-law, killed. His reign of terror worsens the conditions in England until the Earl of Richmond finally challenges his throne. The night before the battle the ghosts of all he had murdered curse Richard in a dream, foreshadowing that he will be killed in the battle.
The performances are a joint production of the Basking Ridge-based Trilogy Repertory Company and A Troupe of Friends. For the past three years the troupe has teamed up with Trilogy Repertory Company. Richard III was performed this weekend at Pleasant Valley Park in Bernards Township.
In the past, Penczak has taken some liberties with Shakespeare, such as when they performed The Taming of the Shrew in a costumes from a variety of eras. Because opening day for Richard III is the 600th anniversary of Richard's death, Penczak decided to keep the actors in medieval costumes this time.
In order to keep the run time around two hours, some scenes and characters were cut, such as the two children of Clarence, the character next in line for the throne. Another unique change was the gender of not only the actors but of the characters Rivers and Grey. The two are usually the Queen's brother and son respectively, but in this version they her sister and daughter.
Troupe of Friends is the moniker of the local band of Shakespeare performers and a reference from a line in the play Macbeth. The troupe has put on plays in Westfield, with the backing of the Westfield Recreation Department, for the past nine years, always around Labor Day. For the first four years they performed in Memorial Pool Field. This will be their sixth year performing in Mindowaskin Park.
The idea to start a Shakespeare group in Westfield came when Penczak was traveling in New England and saw similar plays in parks there.
“In Union County there were no plays in the park anywhere and I thought Westfield should have that,” said Penczak.
After talking with fellow McKinley School parents, who he saw helping in their annual plays and had some high school or college experience with acting, the Troupe of Friends was born. Now every year around April tryouts are held in the Westfield Municipal building. Audition dates are posted on the Troupe of Friends website. No experience is required.
All shows are free of charge and are lawn chair- and blanket-friendly. Troupe of Friends is a non-profit organization that is supported by donations and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts.