BWW Review: DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III Beguiles and Seduces at Lincoln Center's White Light Festival
"Another ticket! Another ticket! My kingdom for another ticket!" one may be moved to exclaim as they depart Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. The sleek and sexy production of DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III, as directed by Garry Hynes, is currently enjoying its U.S. Premiere Production there, presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts during their tenth White Light Festival. Despite being roughly 386 years old and drawing on Tudor propaganda, in the Trump era the play feels remarkably fresh. Especially as the audience watches the titular anti-hero dispatch his own sycophantically loyal members of the aristocracy once he has completely used them up or sees that seeds of doubt are sown into the once abundant fields of his favor.
Just a handful of blocks west of the golden gilded everything of Trump Tower, Aaron Monaghan's simultaneously beguiling and bone chilling portrait of megalomania run amok invokes Trump as president as much as it harkens back to Niccolò Machiavelli. With deft precision, Monaghan's Richard charms his way into our hearts with a wicked wit that seductively tickles funny bones. We overlook his shortcomings, like deceiving people for his own gains, his nauseating contempt for women, his pharisaism, and more, as he slithers onto the throne. Monaghan also astounds with the physicality he brings to the role, using a pair of uneven canes and twisting his left leg to bring to life Shakespeare's exaggerated version of Richard III's deformities. Playing up Richard's physical handicaps and considering Monaghan's own height at 5'7", it is easy to let slide how unscrupulous his Richard is because of the perceived hardships experienced. Each machination performed by Monghan's delightfully manipulative Richard exists perfectly in the grey space between entertaining and horrific, and, like a bad train wreck played out in slow motion, they demand nothing less than our full, undivided attention.
Many in the ensemble around Monaghan deliver strong performances, ensuring that this production of RICHARD III rarely loses momentum. Marie Mullen's Queen Margaret is equally riveting and haunting as she curses Richard and those surrounding him, while her Lord Mayor is amusingly gullible. Jane Brennan brings a steely demeanor to her Elizabeth, while keenly invoking a gravitas that few actresses outside of Cate Blanchett can pull off. Marty Rea is wonderfully detached as the Sweeney Todd-like executioner Catesby, sending Richard's friends turned foes to meet their maker with what appears to be a modern bolt gun of sorts. Siobhán Cullen offers a pristine study in a strong woman broken by tragedy and destroyed by being taken advantage of as an ethereal Lady Anne. Conversely, Ingrid Craigie's Duchess of York is almost played with timidity, making her characterization the most tame and monotmous of the evening.
Francis O'Connor's stark set carries on in the same vein as DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: THE HISTORY PLAYS, presented at Lincoln Center Festival in 2015. The floor is covered in soil, keeping the performances tangibly grounded in earthen sod. A gleaming, white skull hovers overhead letting audiences know that death presides over this bloody story. Anachronistic steel bars line shuttered windows, two industrial fans are set high into the false proscenium, and a row of fluorescent light tubes hang idly above downstage. All of these elements combine to set a mood of discomforting dread while also signaling that the play is more prescient than it may appear at first glance. The costuming follows suit with O'Connor's period-inspired pieces being smartly textured with trappings of modern pop rock motifs.
Theatrical villains are rarely more perfectly crafted than Shakespeare's Richard III, so witnessing the Druid Theater Company perform a stunningly perfect version of the show is the kind of theatrical synergy audiences crave. Hynes' masterful direction breathes new life into the work, treating audiences to a play that is vibrant, powerful, and has plenty to say about remaining hopeful through hard times. Perhaps the public impeachment hearings (albeit much less bloody) will be to Trump what Bosworth Field was to Richard III?
Part of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' tenth anniversary season of White Light Festival, DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III runs through November 23 at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. Tickets and more information can be found here.