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At the Taconic prison, inmates dressed in green jumpsuits fanned themselves with the show’s programs in a sweltering common room but none wandered away as the play unwound. The actors had to perform over the crackle of corrections officers’ radios.

“Who knows what impact this has on them,” says Bertish, who has been deeply moved during each stop, especially the first one at a facility for homeless veterans. “If it has an impact on one person, then one’s doing something worthwhile.”

Richard III’s venal nature wasn’t hard to gather, despite the passage of 400 years and the play’s thick, flowery language. “He’s something else!” one inmate shouted after the newly crowned king slaughtered still more innocents. The inmates also recoiled when the king spit into a courtier’s face and giggled at the Elizabethan insults such as “monstrous witch” and “hedgehog.”

The watchful prison staff, metal detectors and rows of razor wire outside gave the production an added jolt of paranoia. A cardboard cutout of Barney the purple dinosaur on one wall added a dose of despair.

At the Theodora G. Jackson Adult Center in Queens, about 60 seniors gathered to see the play in the mustard-colored dining room with cinderblock walls, which competed for attention with ringing phones, the scraping of chair legs and the occasional thwack from a nearby game of pool.

The audience _ either seated in rows surrounding the center of the room on three sides or lounging at plastic-covered tables further away _ politely listened. There were ooohs when Richard successfully and improbably wooed Lady Anne, the wife of a man he had just killed.

“It was really something different. Really a change of pace,” Queens native Cecelia Castillo said afterward before returning to the broiling city.

The king’s murderous quest for power was somewhat undercut by the glittery stars and moons that dangled festively from the ceiling. Many of the women in attendance wore colorful sun hats.

Tracy Reaves, director of the center, which is part of the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults, said it was the third consecutive year that Shakespeare has been performed at the center.

“We love it. The seniors look forward to it every year,” she said. The general reaction was fitting: “A lot of them said that Richard III was crazy. That was pretty much the sentiment.”

The play was performed during a month in which the center featured nutrition workshops, arthritis pain management workshops, a talk about diabetes and trips to the Bronx to play bingo.

“Richard III” is a supremely bloody play that ends with a high body count, and Castillo was asked if it wasn’t too grim a diversion for an audience in their golden years.

She laughed and said it was no different than anything she’d seen in movies and TV shows lately: “It just goes to show that human nature hasn’t changed much over centuries.”


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