Richard III enchanting, haunting and worth the hike to Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City

It’s a chilly Thursday night and I’m fast approaching 8 p.m. as I power walk up the hill toward the Patapsco Female Institute.  I forgot how long the sloping hill is between parking lot and performance space and I wonder how I managed to do this so swiftly four times a week during the summer.  I’m sweating and regretting bringing my big, long coat as it weighs heavily over my arm.  This is gross.  I’m all wet in my layers of long sleeves and sweaters, jeans and long johns.  Did I expect Snowmaggedon?

I approach the ticketing tent and give them my name.  I collect my ticket and try to sneak away for the performance when I’m told I don’t have my glow stick yet.  Yes.  This makes a trek up the hill in the sweat and fall mist completely worthwhile.  I happily put it around my neck and head up the final stretch of the hill to where everyone waits under a tent that serves as a makeshift lobby.

I look around, recognizing a few faces.  This place feels wonderfully familiar.  I know the ruins, I know the company.  I feel at home.  My Romeo comes to say hello.  He’s playing Richmond in this production.  We’re given a welcome speech and then we’re ushered around the PFI for the start of the play.

This is Richard III, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s moveable production.  What is a moveable production?  It’s only the coolest concept for this playing space imaginable.  The PFI ruins used to be an old school for girls back in the 1800s.  Now the space is used for various events, mainly weddings, but CSC uses it for their outdoor summer performances and their moveable fall production.

When I say moveable, it’s exactly as it sounds.  The audience moves from one part of the PFI to another at the end of each scene.  Richard III starts in front of a stone staircase at the back of the PFI.  We see the characters posing for family photos as we approach.  The play has already begun without us being fully present.  It’s as though we are entering into the world of the play instead of watching the play’s world drift by in front of us, separated by a traditional stage.  We walk into the scene as though we ourselves are characters in the story.

Vince Eisenson and Addison Helm star in Richard III, an inventive and enchanting show.

Every scene is like this.  The audience is ushered from ruin room to ruin room, sometimes invited to go up above a courtyard and get an aerial view of the scene, literally watching the play like a fly on the wall.  Sometimes we’re ushered into a room and watch the scene happen above us through open windows and on balconies looking over.  It’s wonderfully inventive and, in all honesty, truly enchanting.  The play Richard III is a perfect text for such a concept.  Watching a conniving and evil villain as the protagonist is easy to believe and buy into when he’s set against such an ominous playing space as the PFI ruins.  There’s also something wonderfully haunting about the darkness of the story meeting with the decaying building in the month of October.  It’s perfectly frightening and exciting as one scene ends and we’re ushered to the next, I find my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping to get me there and see what happens.

I’m particularly impressed with the way we’re kept in the world of the play throughout.  As we’re being ushered from scene to scene, the world of the play never dissipates.  Richard’s soldiers line the walls with guns while others play cards and sing to the sound of a soft ukulele between rooms.  There’s no opportunity to forget where I am and try to check my phone (as if I’d even want to).

Now, call me corny, but follow me down a bit of a rabbit hole.  There’s a good reason why people love Disney.  Disney has a way of bringing his viewers into his world so that park goers are actually in Tomorrow Land or in the Temple of Doom before they ride Indiana Jones.  He makes it easy on the imagination to believe we’re actually where he says we are.  So the same goes for CSC and their moveable production.  They create a world that’s so specific and so consuming, I have no other choice but to completely exist in it for three hours.  It’s beautiful.

As for the acting, it would be ridiculous to try and name who’s a stand out in this production.  I would essentially have to list the majority of the cast.  It’s an incredible ensemble working together to create seamless magic for their audiences.  Of course, the play wouldn’t work if the title role wasn’t filled with an outstanding actor.  Vince Eisenson is a marvelous Richard.  His smile makes Richard slick and attractive in a way that I enjoy watching him succeed in his malicious plans.  I find myself conflicted as I almost hope he wins in the end.  Eisenson’s physicality also serves the character tremendously as Richard asserts himself on his prey, while still calling for empathy in relation to his deformities.  Eisenson is completely brilliant, fluid, and flawless.

With only four performances left and two sold out, seeing this play will be a challenge, but if, dear reader, you find yourself looking for something unique and wonderful to do this weekend, check out CSC’s Richard III on Thursday and Sunday at 8 p.m.  Tickets are limited, so get your tickets.


Chesapeake Shakespeare Announces Encore Performance of Richard III

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Due to the impending storm and the closure of PFI Historic Park, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has postponed its final SOLD-OUT performance of Richard III.  A special encore performance of Richard III has been announced for Sunday, November 4, 6:00 pm at the PFI Historic Park in Ellicott City.  Tickets and additional information are available at or via the box office at 410-313-8661.

4 thoughts on “Richard III enchanting, haunting and worth the hike to Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City

  • October 23, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    You perfectly capture the beauty of this play. My family loved experiencing it. As you make evident, you don’t really “see” it, you are a part of it.

    • Jana Stambaugh
      November 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM

      Just now seeing this – Thanks, Russ – and thanks for sharing the article. 🙂

  • October 23, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Wonderful review of your experience and the play! Seeing a scene from above, it sounds like a great experience.

    • Jana Stambaugh
      November 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM

      Thanks, Tim. Sorry – just now seeing this – glad you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed the experience. 🙂

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