by Ben Beagle

The Daily News


GENESEO — This is the Shakespeare you’d get if William wore tight jeans instead of breeches, replaced doublets with black leather jackets and donned thick-soled Doc Martens boots.

Shake of the Lake’s summer production of “Richard III,” the story of the ruthless, plotting man who would be king, comes with a punk-rock attitude – complete with a couple of repeating lines from a Sex Pistols song.

“I like the extraordinary imagination. They keep finding new things to do with Shakespeare,” said Anne Lutkus of Geneseo, who was among those who turned out July 26 on a sweltering summer evening for Shake’s tour-opening performance at the Wadsworth Homestead.

An estimated 130 people — the largest crowd to view a Shake on the Lake performance in Livingston County — turned out as Shake began its seventh summer. Shows continue through Aug. 11 at various locations in Western New York.

This summer’s production features a true in-the-round stage, which puts the actors in the middle of an area surrounding by the audience.

“‘Richard III’ is reality TV,” said Shake co-founder Josh Rice, who stars in the title role. “Shakespeare was always looking to the audience. ‘I’m doing this. Now, I’m gonna do that.’ The nature of these shows had constant asides. It’s nice to have people around for every one.”

“And it’s not like Will is here to yell at us,” he added.

Gretchen Donnan of York has seen “a bunch” of the Shake shows. She likes the differences among the productions, and found a lot of energy and passion in this year’s performance.

“I like minimalist theater, where only a little bit of costuming and set changes. They can be quick and subtle, but with a lot of creativity on the part of the cast,” she said. “It’s as much or more fun as a more elaborate theater show.”

Susan Morse of Vermont, who is staying in York for the summer, liked the action and the tradition of actors playing multiple parts. She particularly liked Ladarius Jamerson’s unlikely casting as the Duchess of York.

“Each character really stretched their roles,” she said. “I thought it was very creative.”

In “Richard III,” Richard, the Duke of Gloucester — whose physical deformities often leave people overlooking him — is determined to gain the crown of England from his brother King Edward IV. Richard plots his way through a fast-paced — Shake productions run 90 minutes or less — story of plotting, scheming and many deaths.

The story is more tragic and grim then previous Shake on the Lake productions, but there are also bits of winking dialogue, asides with the audience and dark humor.

When Curtiss Johns as Murderer 2 psyches himself up to kill Richard’s brother, Clarence, he sings the 1980s hit “Eye of the Tiger,” but with substituted lyrics like “I’m gonna kill me a duke/make him all bloody.” (Johns said after the show, he expected the lyrics to change with each performance.)

Musically, you may also hear the Clash, a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Money” and the repeated refrain “I am an anti-Christ/I am an anarchist” from the Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.” whenever cast members are plotting about killing rivals.

“Richard III” is also the most physical of Shake’s shows, which previously have included “Romeo and Juliet,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest.” There are several sword and knife fights, many deaths and a title character with seemingly hundreds of different facial expressions.

“There’s nothing as physical as ‘Richard III,’ and it fits our style — fast, fun and physical,” said Rice, who plays the grueling title role with a left arm kept tightly to his chest at an awkward angle throughout the show, the occasional gimpy leg and a tenuous mental state. “Part of our style is fast, fun and physical.”

“It’s closer to athletics, and that strikes a chord with me,” Rice said. “When I started in theater, I studied stage combat.”

“And,” he said with a wink, “I’m a fan of pro wrestling.”