Photo by Greg Mooney
Playwright Will Power wonders, “This time that we live in right now has really made me think about big questions of virtue and evil, selfishness and selflessness. Who are we at core as human beings? Are we good at core, or are we bad at core?” While he may personally have an answer to these questions in mind, Power’s Seize the King leaves that door completely open.
“Of course it’s easy for us to say a man’s nature and woman’s nature is good at core,” the playwright says. “But there is so much evidence that has challenged that over the years. So I really want to dive into that and keep that an open question right now. Let’s just not assume that’s the easy answer.”
Power explores these questions through the lens of Richard III, one of the most corrupt protagonists in Shakespeare’s canon. Chasing power by any means necessary, this is a political leader who manipulates and murders on his climb to the throne without batting an eye. He is evil personified. He’s the seemingly caricatured type of leader whom the audience can easily say we would never support. But what if he were on our side? That’s the meat of Power’s exploration in adapting Richard III.
Power suggests the scenario in which a potential leader with clear means to enact positive change has an objectively despicable past. “Would you say, ‘Well, he is evil, but I’m going to put it aside because he’s going to help save the Earth’? Or would you say, ‘You know what, I love all the policies, but he is too corrupt. I can’t vote for someone like that’?”
It’s not easy material to wrestle with. But like many well-constructed plays, it asks the audience to face their true priorities.
“I ask about power and limits. Are there limits to what we would do? What are you willing to do to get what you want? The other question I ask is, ‘Do the ends justify the means?’ [The play] also talks about insecurity. It talks about how people push out for power when they’re insecure, to try to overcompensate for something.”
The piece might have some easily-traced modern political parallels, but Power wants to leave it up for interpretation and let each patron get something different out of it. He insures this is through dialogue that can’t be tied to a specific time period, reflecting the timelessness of human nature.
“These energies of evil and of pure hatred have existed for a long time. And these energies of good and empathy have existed for a long time. I really want to explore this lust for power, manipulation, politics, and strategy.” He explains that this piece feels simultaneously timeless and timely for its questions of good and evil and its challenge to patrons regarding the future. “I thought this would be a perfect play to adapt for today. And so, I’m asking, ‘Where are we now, and what are we going to do now?’”
Why challenge audiences with an adaptation of Richard III, which may be hallowed theatre ground? Power admits that asking modern American audiences to examine themselves as our country prepares for a presidential election might not be very effective if done too directly.
“The idea is that the audience should see themselves in the characters, and they should see their times in that time,” Power says. “And so we have definitely been conscious about making those connections through the dialogue with the conflicts and the situations in the scenes. But the other thing is, because it’s an older story, sometimes you have a little bit of distance and actually sometimes you can reach people in a way. If I can deal with the same issues that we’re wrestling with today, but I can do it through Richard III, the audience might actually be a little bit more open to what I’m saying. You know what I mean? So it kinda helps people let their guard down a little bit.”
Writing this piece has felt urgent to the 39-year-old, who sees this as his time to get serious about leaving his mark on the theatre community.
“I’m definitely in my middle age right now. So I feel like this is, in a lot of ways, my time,” Power says, already with multiple awards under his belt including a Lucille Lortel Award. “I really need to try to have as much impact as I can, as an artist and as a human being right now. So this is part of my contribution to try to spark this conversation.”