Zimbabwe-born Danai Gurira plays the Fearless Protagonist in a fresh take of Shakespeare's 'Richard III'

William Shakespeare's "Richard III" is a play that has left an indelible mark on popular culture. Despite not having witnessed a specific production of the play, audiences have encountered variations of the character Richard III in various forms of entertainment and have come to appreciate and adore this iconic villain. The influence of Shakespeare's creation can be seen in modern antiheroes like Tony Soprano from "The Sopranos" and Walter White from "Breaking Bad," characters who, despite their villainous traits, are positioned as heroes in their respective stories.

Director Robert O'Hara, known for his work on "Slave Play," challenges the traditional notions of protagonist and antagonist by casting Zimbabwe-born Danai Gurira, a talented actress and playwright, in the title role of "Richard III." Gurira is no stranger to embodying fierce heroes on both the small and big screens. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she is revered as Okoye, the fearless general of the Dora Milaje in the "Black Panther" series. She has also portrayed Michonne in the long-running television series "The Walking Dead" for over a decade.

Gurira's portrayal of Richard III brings her back to familiar ground, rooted in the literary and performance traditions of Shakespeare. She recognizes the power of great writing to transcend cultural boundaries, surpassing the limitations of race and gender. As she stated in a recent press conference, exceptional writing is about the human experience, reaching beyond the specifics of one's background.

Danai Gurira plays the Fearless Protagonist in a fresh take of Shakespeare's 'Richard III'
Danai Gurira in "Great Performances: Richard III"
Image by Joe Sinnott

Robert O'Hara's production of "Richard III," staged in New York as part of the Public Theater's 2022 Shakespeare in the Park series, offers a fresh interpretation of Shakespeare's classic play. O'Hara introduces new dimensions to the text by adopting a tonal vernacular that modern audiences can easily understand while maintaining the integrity of Shakespeare's original words.

In addition to Gurira's powerful performance, O'Hara assembles a diverse cast that adds depth and complexity to the characters and the director's vision. Ali Stroker portrays Anne, a character who despises Richard, but her physicality, using a wheelchair, gives her a speed and advantage over Gurira's Richard on stage. Monique Holt, one of several deaf performers, takes on the role of Richard's mother, the Duchess of York, emphasizing the character's connection to Richard's outsider nature. Gregg Mozgala plays a dual role as Richard's brother Edward and Richmond, the eventual claimant to the crown as King Henry VII.

Playing the role of Richard III requires physicality, athleticism, and intense memorization. Gurira discusses her experience of transitioning from her previous project, "Wakanda Forever," into the demanding role of Richard III. She expresses her love for the stage and Shakespeare's works, acknowledging the rigorous preparation required to inhabit the character fully. Gurira embraces the challenge of understanding and conveying the complexities of Richard III's psychology and motivations, going beyond the perception of him as a determined villain.

One notable aspect of O'Hara's production is the incorporation of the modern vernacular into the tonality of the dialogue. By allowing the audience to understand the language in a contemporary context, the production bridges the gap between the past and the present. Gurira emphasizes the importance of trusting one's own soul and connecting with the material on a personal level. By infusing the ancient text with contemporary experiences and emotions, the resonance becomes stronger and more

This story was recreated from Danai Gurira's interview with Salon.

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Mungwadzi Godwin

twitterinstagramI like sharing positive stories about Zimbabweans at home and abroad. I also write articles on Personal Finance, Fashion, Music, and Tech. Let's connect!

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