Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2010

Richard III

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 5, 2010
by Shera Cohen

Is it shameful to pity a murderer? Not just any murderer, but one who has so much blood on his hands that could make a river turn red? Each audience member will ask him/herself this question upon experiencing "Richard III." The Bard has taken liberties with history in creating his Richard, but no one cares. This is a play, and one of the most powerful pieces of theatre and portrayals of humans in literature. Richard is the bad guy, but why? This man could be a psychiatrist's dream subject. Straight from the womb, Richard is physically deformed. He becomes a man, psychologically deformed with rage and hate. Yet, is he pure evil?

It is hard to imagine that any cast could outshine the actors in this performance. Every actor, from the regulars (Annette Miller, Nigel Gore, Tod Randolph) to relative newcomers (Leia Espericueta, Ryan Winkles), personify his/her role. The venue has mounted "Richard" in the past, with each production surpassing the last in characterization, staging, and accessibility. As for the latter, "Richard" is a confusing play simply because its plot involves several generations of kings, queens, lords, dukes, et al. With so many of these nobles losing their heads or bludgeoned, it is hard to keep track of who remains standing. The program's synopsis and cast list are a great help to the audience.

John Douglas Thompson is even more dynamic and multi-leveled in his portrayal of Richard as he was as last year's lead in "Othello" - if that is possible. Physically, Thompson embodies the role with a crooked stance and booming yet articulate voice. He becomes evil personified. Yet surprisingly, he is full of wit (there is humor and even audience participation) coupled with bravado - thus the audience's discomfort in laughing and pitying the situation and the character.

Jonathan Croy's precise and balanced direction of good and evil and the so important shades of grey, costume designer Arthur Oliver's regal 16th century depiction, and set designer Patrick Brennan's minimal use of movable arches bring the play's eloquent words off the page to life on the stage. Kudos goes to Ryan Winkles who double duties as an actor and fight choreographer. The battle scene finale, with seemingly a cast of thousands (actually, probably 12) is chilling.