Storytelling in Dark Times


Richard III, now on the Boston Common (All photos: Commonwealth Shakespeare Company)

Storytelling fascinates me. It is considered primal to the human condition. My guess is that you, like me, are soothed—and intrigued—when you hear the words, “Let me tell you a story.”

Because I am not a particularly good storyteller—my preferred form of personal expression is visual and non-narrative—I am very drawn to those who are. And I like looking under the hood, to figure out how great storytelling actually works.

That’s probably the reason why I have watched the stunning and genre-busting Netflix special Nanette (starring Hannah Gadsby) 7 times. What’s more, I may not be done uncovering just how she has skillfully crafted that uncanny and brilliant arc of a story.

Shakespeare of course is masterful at storytelling. When he is placed in good hands, all sorts of other possibilities emerge. In our era his plays have been set in every possible period of history and circumstance, with genders and characters made fungible and in flex. It was a great moment when Phyllida Lloyd recently staged her “Shakespeare Trilogy” (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) in a women’s prison with female inmates playing all the roles.

While imaginative interpretations of great plays pique my interest, I have more recently become very interested in the way storytelling can serve as a mirror, especially during dark times. And there is no getting around the fact that we are in a dark time now, one that is made particularly toxic by a 24/7 news cycle that brings every dark deed into full view on a regular basis. As a result we are buried in the dark matter.

So the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s decision to bring Richard III to the Common this year was spot on. It is a play with so many of the themes that have become de rigueur in our world—crazed power grabs, political mendacity, shameless deception, manipulation, craven selfishness, the absence of leadership with a moral code, destruction and disregard. Richard is a villain, but he also has charm. Shakespeare makes it easy for us to align with him right from the start in spite of his Machiavelli machinations. He is eloquent and powerful. And yet we see can clearly see how corrupt he is.

Faran Tahir as Richard is spectacular. He fills the stage with his lights out charisma. No hunched over homunculus in this version, Tahir’s Richard has an off center walk. But his power is on full display. Director Steven Maler’s minimal staging and set design all serve to highlight what is actually a very actor-centric night of theater. Tahir has a full ensemble of excellent performers alongside him, and they hold your attention from the start.

And an added bonus for me was being able to experience another kind of darkness, played out 500 years ago, that serves as a worthwhile reminder that these dark times, bad as they are, they too will pass.

Richard III runs through August 5 on the Boston Common. For more information, click here.


Faran Tahir as Richard III

4 Comment

  1. Colleen says: Reply

    Thank you Deborah, the slow muse of story telling.

    1. deborahbarlow says: Reply

      Thank you Colleen!

  2. great – if sad – tale… sail on!

  3. Ann says: Reply

    Thank you,

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