Saturday, January 21, 2012

Richard III

Benjamin Curns in Henry VI, Part 3, 2011.  Photo by Tommy Thompson.
I had the pleasure of witnessing the dress rehearsal and the PWYW performance of Richard III the finale of the ASC's War of the Roses tetralogy, part of The Histories: The Rise and Fall of Kings. This series, which continues with The Life and Death of King John and Henry VIII, but particularly the tetralogy focusing on the War of the Roses, has gained a cult-like following among ASC regulars, and there was definitely more of a buzz in the air last night at the opening than normal. There was a playoff like atmosphere in the crowd and everyone seemed to be a little more serious than normal. Likewise, the actors seemed to step their game up even more than normal. Not one "prithee" was called and I didn't notice any errors at all. The intensity level of the actors from the dress to opening was kicked up several notches. One could tell that the actors take this play (and series) very seriously and some were wearing their emotions on their sleeves.

Richard III is one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. While the action is not of the same level as that of 3H6, the language is stunningly beautiful, well beyond that found in the the H6 plays. I had a few quibbles with themes/characters being cut in this production, most notably the ghosts of Henry VI and Ned Plantagenet, but I understand why that was done for the play is very long and there just aren't enough actors to cover all of the parts.

Once again, Benjamin Curns takes on the role of Richard of Gloucester and he of course dominates the stage. Simply put, this is Curns' crowning achievement and you would be wise to see it more than once. This performance ranks right up there with his Iago and Mephistopheles (unfortunately I missed his Macbeth and Hamlet). His performance in the final act is amazingly intense. It's easy to see that Curns is a fan of this series of plays and he definitely has studied the role and the production history of the play. I was very moved as the play came to its conclusion, not only because of the emotional performance but because the series is drawing to a close. I know I will probably see it at least three more times, but it's just one of those things you know you will remember and miss for the rest of your life.

Rene Thornton, Jr. turns in a wonderful and powerful performance as Buckingham, at one point leading the crowd on with a rousing speech full of confidence, hope, and deceit. Sarah Fallon, for the fourth time, takes her bow as Margaret, a role she will always be remembered for. She lets loose with her customary intensity, but picks it up a notch for this one. You can definitely tell she cherishes finishing out the role to its conclusion. She also turns in an amusing performance as young King Edward V, complete with some over stuffing. I'm not exactly sure where the obese Edward V idea came from (his father was in his last years), but it's funny. Brandi Rhome is wonderful as Anne Warwick/Queen Anne and as the smart-aleck young Richard of York. She also displays her beautiful singing voice on "The Dog Days Are Over" to begin the play. I'm really glad she came back to the stage this season. John Harrell, the only person to have a role in every single on of the Histories series, returns as Edward IV and brings his wonderful facial expressions along for the ride in his turn as James Tyrrel, murderer of the Princes in the Tower. Allison Glenzer turns in a powerfully gut-wrenching performance as Queen Elizabeth and Miriam Donald is strong as the wise but scarred Queen Mother/Duchess of York. Aidan O'Reilly is magnificent in one of the play's most poignant scenes: the death of Clarence. Chris Johnston and O'Reilly are impressive as the Boar's henchmen, the Cat and the Rat: Catesby and Ratcliffe. Daniel Kennedy's Hastings is not to be missed and his costume is right out of the Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen catalog. And of course, I would be negligent if I didn't mention the brief but stirring performance of Greg Phelps as Richmond (even though I was hoping he'd somehow lose to Richard).

I am looking forward to seeing this production a few more times, but it's a bittersweet proposition knowing that once it's over that's it and that an important chapter in the history of the American Shakespeare Center will have turned as the War of the Roses comes to its conclusion.

No comments: