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Richard III

"Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?" Act I, scene ii

Written: 1592

Subterranean Shakespeare ; April 29, 2006 Berkeley, CA, USA
Starring :
Reviewed on : 0000-00-00 00:00:00 ; Reviewed by : Denise Battista

Richard III
Director Jeremy Cole promises his audience an intimate encounter with Shakespeare, and he delivers in more ways than one. His Bay Area directing debut of Subterranean Shakespeare's Richard III is staged at the Berkeley Art Center, a space that provides an excellent set for entrances and exits with its perfectly placed partitions holding, let's call it "eclectic," art, and hiding a welcoming violinist who accompanies the performance. The exhibit is quickly forgotten, however, as the ears adjust to the looming acoustics, and the action gathers in the room's center.

This play works in its moments of subtlety, such as the slipping off of one's coat as an indication of his demise. The extremes sometimes get the better of themselves. With a focus on the curses of Queen Margaret, played by a shrewd Jean Forsman, Cole opts for a choral-like representation. Forsman appears in bold throughout the play to echo her Act 1 curses as they manifest. Her red taffeta gown, contrasting sharply with the contemporary black dress of the rest of the cast, is signification enough (more than enough) of her importance in Cole's interpretation. At times I found myself questioning the play's title, contemplating the life of Queen Margaret a bit too much versus that of our villain. This does not preclude her fine performance, however, delivered most brilliantly in a monstrous crawl toward the strong-willed, yet sacrificial Queen Elizabeth, played by Kerry Gudjohnsen.

Jack Halton, who is also preparing for Shakespeare at Stinson's production of Hamlet this May/June 2006, mastered the role of Richard's right-hand man, Buckingham. Halton's portrayal reminded me more so of a Godfather-like consiglieri than the more often played amoral mirror to Richard, but it was not the interpretation that struck me; rather, it was the fact that there reigned a true Shakespearean presence upon the stage.

King Richard's performance, delivered by Charlie Goldenhawk Reaves, captured my attention in brief, yet beautiful moments. Cole seems to have relied on a Vice-like interpretation of Richard for most of the play, portraying him as a one-dimensional embodiment of evil. I would have liked a more subtle and sinister volley between Richard's public versus private self, as it would have spotlighted his overwhelming ability to manipulate both his kingdom and his audience. But our intimate encounter with Richard rears its head in two pre-culminating moments before its climax near the play's end. Richard's two interactions with his mother, portrayed by Maureen-Theresa Williams, cue the audience to sympathize with Richard. Reaves' subtle change in demeanor, stance, and gaze in response to his mother's warranted disapproval offers a much-needed understanding of Richard's physical and mental sufferings, and provides a sad echo of his final monologue in 3 Henry VI, recollecting his mother's lack of pity, love, and fear, and introducing his determination: "I myself am alone."

Richard's prophesied unpeaceful sleep is a scene eerily well done. Beads of sweat appear on Reaves' forehead as he tosses in his nightmare, and his once sleeping army awakes in order to double as those whom Richard slain. In order to clear the stage for Richard's impending soliloquy, each victim retrieves his or her respective coat and blankets the sleeping Richard before exiting the stage, leaving Reaves to burst into a most impassioned soliloquy.

Though his living lamentations be long, his death is brief. Richard's end comes abruptly, just moments after his bartering pleas for a horse. The actors must have been following text versus Shakespeare's ever-debatable stage direction, exchanging a Richard against Richmond swordfight (perhaps for the lack of a sword?) for a quick slit of Richard's throat. His fall, however, is countered by yet another moment of grace. Richard collapses in a heap of mortality, and as an almost afterthought, his crown slips silently from his head. Whether gravity or gravitas, it works.

Richard III is being performed at the Berkeley Art Center through 5/20/2006.

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