Truth Be Not Told
'Two Days Of Grace' Is A Thought-Provoking Play, But History It's Not.
By Dave Irwin
OCTOBER 12, 1998: TUCSON PLAYWRIGHT Toni Press-Coffman believes the truth is out there, but that Shakespeare got it wrong in Richard III. She's troubled that people forget that plays, even historical ones, like her own Two Days of Grace at Middleham, are works of fiction.
"Richard III was a wonderful play," Press-Coffman says. "But Shakespeare was under a particular political position. It was his job to make sure the people in power liked his work. So one way to do that was to villainize those whom it would make them happy for him to villainize. It makes me angry that a play that is so utterly inaccurate historically is so successful. I feel that's dangerous. I wouldn't be worried if people got that a play is just a play and didn't think this was actually history."
Borderlands Theatre premiered Press-Coffman's latest work last week at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts. Two Days of Grace at Middleham is a study of the historical character of King Richard III, juxtaposed against a contemporary story of personal discovery.
Press-Coffman challenges Shakespeare's portrait of Richard III as a malformed medieval monster. In Press-Coffman's version, Richard is a handsome, loving man who is shaped by fears for his own life and by the perilous politics of his times. His fears drive him to allow the murder of his two nephews, placed in his care after the death of their father, King Edward IV.
Press-Coffman juxtaposes this historical drama, played out at Richard's castle at Middleham, with the nightmares of Adam Rutland, the reincarnated spirit of the murdered boy who would have been king, Edward V. At Middleham, Adam meets American pro football star Clint Custer, who is on his own quest--one which takes him places he never suspected.
Press-Coffman wrote her play during a writer's residency at a castle near Edinburgh, Scotland, near Richard III's Bosworth Fields and the ruins of his Yorkshire castle.
"I had done research on the play over many years, on and off," Press-Coffman says. I went there with an idea of what the 15th-century characters would be, and I knew Adam. Clint was the last thing. I had researched it so much that I was able to write the first draft in a month, which was really wonderful."
She believes Shakespeare's vile vision of Richard emerged under the patronage of the Tudor dynasty seeking to discredit Richard's lineage and any future claims to the throne. She wanted to explore an alternative version of history, concerned by how unquestioningly accepted Shakespeare's version has become.
She believes, "History is not something we can separate ourselves from. As we are living our lives, we are making history and shaping history."
Press-Coffman explores a wide variety of ideas in her play, from the nature of fame to the pleasures of music. The work moves backward and forward in time, with Richard given a sense of omniscient awareness of events. Throughout, the past and present interact, especially between Richard and Adam. A dream sequence at the end of the first act resurrects the four dead brothers to debate where it all went wrong, causing their line to lose the throne. In the second act, the relationship between Adam and Clint becomes more personal and explicit, even as the historical events move to their climax. In the end, Richard confronts his actions toward his nephews, even as Clint accepts responsibility for his feelings towards Adam.
The opportunity to be close to the production gave Press-Coffman extra time to hone the work. As late as final rehearsals, she was still tweaking a line here and there, although scene re-writes were completed a month ago.
Directed by Samantha K. Wyer, the play stars Jonathan Ingbretson as a complex Richard. Andrea Miller is his ambitious wife, Anne Neville. Douglas Hill plays both Richard's friend, Francis, and his brother, George. Ross Helwig is Clint Custer and also King Edward. Martin Chandler, in an emotional tour-de-force, plays Adam Rutland, Edward V and Edmond, Richard's brother who died in battle at 17.
"I could not be happier with the production," Press-Coffman says. "It really does the play justice and brings all the different elements and layers to the surface. The design is really wonderful and the acting is very, very good, across the board. For me, the production looks very cohesive--none of the elements are fighting each other. If there's criticism about the play, I'm going to have to take the fall, because the production can't be faulted. But like the play or don't like the play, you need to not mistake it for truth, because that's not what it is."
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