Angela Bonacasa has spent much of her career choreographing combat scenes on stage. So it’s fitting that the Castine-based director and fight choreographer would take on a role as well known for its physicality as it is for its words or deeds in one of her first acting performances in nearly two decades.
Bonacasa is the title character in Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” directed by area newcomer Dan Hanchrow, which takes place over the next three long weekends in Brewer, Orono and Prospect. The first performance — part of the theater company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars offering — is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday in Brewer’s Indian Trail Park.
“It’s by far the biggest role I’ve ever undertaken, and I have to say, even though I don’t want to turn him into a caricature, doing some mustache-twirling evil onstage has been a blast,” said Bonacasa. “But as someone that studies movement, turning his physicality into something believable has also been really satisfying.”
Bonacasa, 49, has for more than 20 years worked as a certified fight choreographer, teaching stage combat and designing fight scenes for theater companies all over the country. Since moving to Maine in 2007 with her husband, Andrew, she has continued to work in fight choreography, and since 2009 has directed a number of shows in eastern Maine, including, most recently, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 2019, “The Lion in Winter” in 2018, both for True North Theatre in Orono; and “Calendar Girls” in 2016 for Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor.
Bonacasa returned to acting a little over a year ago, when True North Theatre staged Alan Ayckborn’s “Table Manners,” in which she was cast as one of the main characters, Annie.
“It made me remember why I got into theater in the first place, after all these years doing fight choreography and directing,” she said. “It’s just such a joy.”
Shakespeare’s version of the real King Richard III presents the man as an aged, deformed, scheming villain, who, by the time he’s given one thought about the moral implications of actions, has already ordered the deaths of multiple people on his way to the throne. In reality, the actual Richard III died at age 32, only had a moderate case of scoliosis, and was not, in all likelihood, that much of a villain at all.
But the legend, of course, is much more fun than the truth — especially when it comes to bringing the character to life.
“Because this character is written as having some major physical ailments, my performance in a lot of ways is rooted in movement, and thinking about how his body might move, and how that affects the rest of how he carries himself onstage,” Bonacasa said.
It is worth noting that Richard III is, obviously, a male character — but more so than perhaps with any other playwright in history, gender-swapped casting is a time-honored tradition with Shakespeare. And for Bonacasa, it’s essentially a non-issue.
“I just have to live in his motivations, and why he’s doing this,” she said. “By the end of the play, I want people to be glad he’s dead, but feel like he was fun to hang out with for a couple of hours.”
As for any resonance that a play about a corrupt leader might have for a contemporary audience, Bonacasa thinks it’s best to just let the character speak for himself.
“He says awful things in a room full of people who then don’t say anything,” Bonacasa said. “I’m aware of what that says about today. It’s Shakespeare. It has stood the test of time.”
“Richard III” will be performed at 6 p.m. July 18-21 at Indian Trail Park in Brewer, at 6 p.m. July 25-28 outside at the Orono Public Library, and 6 p.m. Aug. 1-4 at Fort Knox State Park in Prospect. All tickets are $10. Bring something to sit on and a picnic, if desired. Food trucks will be at certain performances. Check the Ten Bucks Theatre Facebook page for updates.