Richard II Burns Bright in Montford's 'Muse of Fire' Series - TribPapers

Richard II Burns Bright in Montford’s ‘Muse of Fire’ Series

Laura Powers and director Jason Williams provide an introduction to Richard II.

Asheville – Montford Park Players continues their ambitious season of classic plays with William Shakespeare’s Richard II in the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The second show of the Muse of Fire season, Richard the II opened on May 31 and will run through June 23. Performances start at 7:30 P.M. each night. There is no charge to attend any Montford Park performance, as part of the organization’s dedication to making theater accessible to all.

Richard II is directed by Jason Williams, who also serves as the artistic director for the entire season. Written around 1595, the play is based on the life of England’s King Richard II and follows the battles, betrayals, and royal intrigue that surround his downfall. The performance is brought to life with period costumes, creative music and dancing, and actors which use the entire park for their playing space.

The cast includes 18 actors playing more than 40 characters. The role of Richard II is played by Asheville-based actor Emilie Soffe, with Eric Vik playing the part of Henry Bolingbroke who opposes Richard and later becomes King Henry IV.

Richard II is the second production in the Montford’s series Muse of Fire: Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses. The season includes nine of Shakespeare’s history plays over the course of 25 weeks from May through October. The season began in May with Edward III, and will include Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI before closing with Richard III. There are 75 planned performances.

“This saga, with the nine plays including Edward III, has never been done by any theater in the world in one season,” explained Executive Director John Russell. “So we’re biting off a lot but after 52 years, I feel confident that we are capable of pulling this off successfully.”

“These are some rarely performed plays and Asheville deserves to see them. They are beautiful. They are meaningful. They are very timely with our current political climate,” said Board Chair and season sponsor Tod Leaven, noting that performances were drawing both locals and spectators from many states away. According to Montford staff, the audience at a previous performance of Edward III included a couple who drove to Asheville from Wisconsin to see the rarely-staged play.

A key factor in the creation of the season has been keeping the complicated plots of the historic plays clear for modern audiences. Ahead of each show, a live presentation or a pre-recorded video is available to recap what had happened in previous plays. “We want people to be able to understand the whole cycle of this,” said Russell. “Not necessarily as historical theater but as history as interpreted as one of the greatest masters of the English language.”