“Richard III” is one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays and certainly a toothsome challenge that many actors salivate over to flex their mighty muscle. The reverse of Hamlet’s coin, Richard’s outwardly directed. He’s Caligula during the War of the Roses and plays chess with human pawns. This production, under Paul Mullins’ direction, sets the action in the past, but with current and flashy dress, and Derek Wilson’s Richard is a rebel without a pause whose machinations are as twisted as his spine.
Wilson lopes about the stage in a feat of athleticism, keeping physical character that surely was more torturous than learning the lines that must comprise two-thirds of the play. We are continually privy to Richard’s thoughts and his super-villain control, as he holds people in thrall with the web he’s cast when they weren’t paying attention, and binds each closely to the path he has set for them. Watching the screws turn and the plots thicken is a masterful feat of writing—thanks Will Shakespeare—and acting brilliance in one. Carol Halstead’s Queen Margaret does some loping of her own, unafraid to invoke a bit of blood magic as a foil to Richard’s bloodshed, as she prognosticates what is to come. She’s the ghost from the very beginning of the party and, while she initially seems like Cassandra, she is soon discovered to be truly a seer.
The Queens–Ellen Fiske as now Duchess of York, Gretchen Hall as Queen Elizabeth the First, originally current and soon-to-be former, and Amaia Arana as Queen-to-be Lady Anne—all have power of their own. These towering women are most formidable together, though the word of the King was stronger than all.
The all-reaching power, taken by Richard through intrigue and, later, succession, shows how power in itself corrupts, when it is not tempered by justice. This gives us food for thought, going into our decision-making that happens only days after the close of this play.
Brittany Vasta’s set is sere and rendered well by Tony Galaska’s evocative lighting. Kristin Isola’s costumes give us flashy men and formal women and you simply must see Richard’s coronation outfit–it’s perfect for the season and complemented by the lighting. Benjamin Furiga’s sound adds subtle menace and nothing is more thrilling than Rick Sordelet’s fight scenes, especially Richard’s at dénouement. This is not for the squeamish–as in Shakespeare’s time, this is entertainment for adults. It is edgy and taut and a Game of Thrones that surely taught George R. R. Martin how the game is played.
This play is only available through November 6, so visit www.shakespearenj.org
. Should you happen to go prior to October 30, be sure to head to Mead Hall for the showing of one of the First Folios, the reason why we have Shakespeare today! There’s a great display and the sight of a 400-year-old printed play is breathtaking and the perfect amuse bouche for the play.