BWW Reviews: RICHARD III Stabs Through Expectations at Folger Theater
According to the news, on the same day that a giant horde of sea hawks from Seattle, Washington, pulverized an equally as large but not quite as majestic army of broncos from Colorado in East Rutherford, New Jersey, another battle was being waged in the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. This battle, however, was between Richard III and the rest of the world.
"Richard III," as directed by Robert Richmond, not only altered modern day perception of the Shakespearean classic, but the appearance of the Folger Theatere itself. This production is the first to convert the theater into a theater-in-the-round. In a play with as much murder and mayhem as "Richard III" however, it did beg the question where the murderers would cart the bodies once they were killed off.
That is where the collaboration of Richmond, Production Manager Charles Flye, Scenic Designer Tony Cisek was brought into play. With each murder, each actor descended into the ground through traps within the floor. And over each murder, committed with violent and malicious intent, Richard III loomed.
Drew Cortese drew a surprising portrait of the bloody monarch. His portrayal as Richard III was as alluring as it was dastardly. What most surprised me was how he dealt with Richard's physical defects throughout the play. At times, a whithered hand or an aggrieved hump would express whatever point he was trying to convey to the room, but they only appeared in flashes. The limp, however, remained constant.
What was surprising was how much he moved for having such affliction, but it does make sense. Richard was bloodthirsty and desperate to be king. He had no time to sit, ponder and wax upon his own ailments. By the second act, his limp was not a hinderance or a benefit, but rather a sort of swagger that maintained Richard's difference from everybody else.
But the way he worked with the rest of the cast was the most exciting part of this play. Richard's relationships with the women of the play in particular captured my attention as he either danced around them or was danced around by them in an elaborate, passionate and hateful dance. His relationship, however brief, with Lady Anne-played by Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan-struck a chord as he willed her from everlasting hatred to forgiveness. Even when his manipulation was complete, a tendril of hope that he felt something genuinely towards her couldn't help but leak out by the gentle way he treated her. It made it doubly awful when, in the second act, he convinces Queen Elizabeth-played by Julia Motyka-through blackmail and subterfuge that she must give up her daughter to him as his wife.
Each performer had a glimmering moment that the audience could latch upon. Perhaps the most surprising source of humor, however dark, was Ratcliffe-one of Richard's assassins. Almost every line caused the audience to chuckle as he would quickly wrench the life out of his next victim. The show is not, however, for those who have a weak constitution. Every character bites, gnaws and spits upon another character to get what they want, with and without success.
This play seems to fixate on the power of rings and clothing, for which much thanks must go to the props, costume and wardrobe team-including Mariah Hale, Pam Weiner, Edwin Schiff, Adalia Vera Tonneyck and Ananda Keator. I was frankly blown away by the costumes in this piece, which were equally modern and otherworldly. A very specific shout out to the coats of all the male actors, especially Clarence's-played by Michael Sharon-is due, because even when the air of the room was tense with betrayal, grief and woe, their costumes made them all look fantastic while they did everything.
But the rings were possibly one of the most important aspects of the play. As the rings shifted from one hand to the next, so did the power of the play and kingship seem to follow. But what "Richard III" proves beyond anything else is that, without a horse, what is a kingdom really worth?