During his time as a grad student in the University of Houston's School of Theatre and Dance program, Dylan Paul wanted to be in the Houston Shakespeare Festival the school puts on every year at Miller Outdoor Theatre. But casts are limited and he never got the call.
Fast-forward a few years and Paul, who's been on Broadway in the revival of Cabaret with Alan Cummings, has returned to Houston to finally get to be part of this year's HSF experience, playing Buckingham in Richard III. He'll also be Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, which is being shown in repertory at this year's festival.
And he'll be working with a former mentor, HSF artistic director (and UH professor) Jack Young, who's playing the title role under the direction of Lenny Banovez, artistic director of TITAN Theatre Company in New York City. Banovez, Young says, "has a Hall of Horrors sensibility, a Friday the 13th frame of mind."
As seen by William Shakespeare, Richard III was a scheming, power-hungry man crippled in body who used and discarded most anyone who entered his life. And yet, there’s something likable about him. He is able, for instance, to persuade Lady Anne (Tracie Thomason) to marry him even though he killed her father and husband.
Young will be playing Richard on two sets of crutches: regular and weaponized, and it's clear he relishes the experience of tackling what he calls "a nightmare play.” Richard is “a trickster character like Iago,” Young says.
Paul explains Richard III’s appeal this way:
“We like rooting for people who haven’t watered down what they want. There is a shamelessness which I think in some way we associate with honesty. Someone is out after what they want and we admire that. The audience, of course, sees what Richard wants directly because he shares it with them. He’s, of course, a reprehensible person, murdering children and his best friends.”
UH puts on the HSF (with City of Houston financial support as well), using both UH students and professional actors. As most audience members can attest, it helps when those visiting actors have previous stage performances in their résumés. The minute changes of facial expression used so effectively in film and TV work will never make it to the people sitting on the hill. "We're filling a larger vessel," Young says.
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Putting it together, Young says, means "We've got to get a company of 16 people to do two different kinds of Shakespeare. You've got to be able to change gears."
Thanks to the unlimited seating at Hermann Park, Miller, despite the heat, has some advantages over Houston's theaters since the size of their houses puts a limit on each show's attendance.
"In only nine days, we perform for more people than will see Stages' main-stage season or Main Street because they only have 100-seat houses," says Young. "We have 5,000. More people will see us than will see A Christmas Carol, and they see it for free."
Performances are scheduled for July 29 through August 6 at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, visit houstonfestivalscompany.com or milleroutdoortheatre.com. Free.