Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Richard III: Born With Teeth

The Epic Theatre's version of Shakespeare's Richard III (here called Richard III: Born With Teeth) aims for immediacy, edge, and individuality, and it largely succeeds. With a strong cast led by the able James Wallert as an occasionally charming, always scheming Richard, and cleanly directed by Ron Russell, this is a solid production.

It can be a bit gimmicky, however. The audience is treated to white rose punch; cast members chat with the audience, one on one, in character; the setting is contemporary for no particular reason. This is all entertaining but adds little to the play.

[spoiler below]

There is one conceptual gambit that is not a gimmick, however: the treatment of Richard's body. This Richard seemingly suffers from relatively minor handicaps--a useless hand, a slight limp. He is physically imperfect, but not hideous. Then, late in the play, when he is readying himself for battle, he takes off his civilian clothing and reveals the metal and leather corset that keeps his misshapen body erect and helps him to hide his weakness from his enemies; it is unseen armor. His servant removes the corset, and Richard's body folds up. We see a man who is in constant pain, and for a brief moment, this villain becomes a sympathetic human being. Putting the corset back on, along with military armor, is excruciating to him, but also rebuilds the Richard he chooses to present to the world. This is so much more interesting--and psychologically complex--than the usual heavy-handed conflation of twisted body and twisted mind. And in becoming more human, this Richard also becomes more villainous. It's a brilliant idea, beautifully carried out, and it raises this production from just another Richard III to one with something new to say.

(fifth row center; press ticket)

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