Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Richard III"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"RICHARD III"

by William Shakespeare
directed by Benjamin Evett

RICHARD, Duke of Gloucester, later KING RICHARD III … John Kuntz
GEORGE, Duke of Clarence, brother of King Richard III … Allyn Burrows
BRAKENBURY, Lieutenant of the Tower … Michael F. Walker
LORD HASTINGS … Ken Cheeseman
LADY ANNE … Sarah Newhouse
QUEEN ELIZABETH … Jennie Israel
RIVERS, sister of Queen Elizabeth … Paula Langton
GREY, uncle to Queen Elizabeth … David Evett
ELIZABETH, daughter of Queen Elizabeth … Maureen Regan
RICHARD OF YORK, son of Queen Elizabeth & King Edward IV … Khalil Flemming, Carlos Rojas
EDWARD, Prince of Wales, son of Queen Elizabeth & King Edward IV … Addison Williams, David Mokriski
MARQUIS OF DORSET, son of Queen Elizabeth … Yavni Bar-Yam
LORD STANLEY, stepfather to Richmond … Richard Snee
BUCKINGHAM … Marya Lowry
QUEEN MARGARET, widow of the late King Henry VI … Paula Plum
MURDERER 1 … Richard Snee
MURDERER 2 … Paula Langton
KING EDWARD IV, brother of Richard IIII … Greg Steres
SIR RICHARD RATCLIFF … Michael F. Walker
DUCHESS OF YORK, mother to Richard III … Bobbie Steinbach
SON OF CLARENCE … Khalil Flemming, David Mokriski, Carolos Rojas, Addison Williams
CITIZEN 1 … Sarah Newhouse
CITIZEN 2 … Greg Steres
BISHOP OF ELY … David Evett
LORD CATESBY … Allyn Burrows
MAYOR OF LONDON … Paula Langton
A PAGE … Khalil Flemming, David Mokriski, Carolos Rojas, Addison Williams
TYRREL, a murderer … Greg Steres
RICHMOND, last heir of the house of Lancaster … Benjamin Evett (10/4-10/31)
RICHMOND, last heir of the house of Lancaster … Douglas R G Lockwood (11/4-11/7)

At the benefit performance of the newly-formed Actors’ Shakespeare Project, John Kuntz gave hints of an impressive Richard III, and why not? Mr. Kuntz has been doing variations of old Crookback for some time, now, so it was inevitable that he would take on the deformed, malevolent mastermind who murders his way up to the English throne only to fall at the hands of Richmond, the personification of goodness --- though, like Anne Gottlieb's Cleopatra, later would have suited Mr. Kuntz better than sooner. Before I attended RICHARD III, the Project’s inaugural production at Boston’s Old South Meeting House, it occurred to me that Mr. Kuntz, at this stage of his career, and the timeless Mr. III might neutralize each other and within minutes of Richard’s “Now is the winter of our discontent”, my instincts proved correct: Mr. Kuntz, his shoulder padded and his left arm curled up against his breast, gets through one of Mr. Shakespeare’s most taxing roles (1,164 lines) but lacks the satanic wit and majesty that makes Richard so fascinating in his monstrosity. Instead, Mr. Kuntz often draws from his own manic persona, screeching included; aside from scenes with two of his leading ladies, this Richard, denounced in the play as a bottled spider, is more of a mosquito daring to be swatted. His Fluellen in CSC’s London-tube version of HENRY V remains unique in Mr. Kuntz’s gallery: for one shining moment, Mr. Kuntz put aside his mannerisms to reveal a gruff but kindhearted humanity that made him seem newly minted --- if he has drawn a curtain over his Welshman because it was so unlike him, I, for one, would not mind seeing it uncovered and hung with more portraits painted in like manner; he has done it once and should be encouraged to do it again --- otherwise, Mr. Kuntz would be wise to stick to such comic ensembles as SHEL’S SHORTS and SPIKED EGGNOG II, where he was the Sourpatch Kid among the zanies, and such tailored vehicles as SCAPIN where Moliere could be heard, now and then, from the back seat. Still, an actor can never test his mettle unless allowed to do so and Mr. Kuntz has been allowed, here; hopefully he will learn from his results before further forays into the classics.

Nor did I expect a perfect production from the Project, first time around. Artistic Director Ben Evett, holding the directorial reins and playing Richmond for half of the run, must eventually blend his actors into a give-and-take ensemble --- for now, they are a collection of soloists, not all of them Shakespearean, and this RICHARD a three-hour puttin-on-a-show, but Mr. Evett does hold true to his original promise of bare-boned Shakespeare and has his actors in modern dress using few props (including a cell phone or two). There are a few interpretative touches: a Buckingham who, by Richard’s sudden kiss, goes from an actress playing a male role to an ambitious businesswoman in a pants suit, a Queen Margaret right out of PRIVATE LIVES, and a pair of dese-and-dose thugs sent to pay Clarence a little visit, but Mr. Evett’s overall vision is clean and straightforward --- the loveliest moment: the prophesying ghosts wandering through the audience like whispering fireflies; the oddest: the Richard-Richmond battle consisting of fisticuffs, piano wire and, finally, strangulation by tie (when you think about it, it doesn’t make Richmond look all that heroic, beating up on a cripple). A new company must take whatever performing space is available but the Meeting House’s acoustics should have been tested beforehand as it renders much of the declamation congested and harsh, nor does composer/musician Bill Barclay help matters with his pounding, clanging, hissing score coming from the sidelines (talk about Theatre of Cruelty!).

Allyn Burrows makes a quiet, authoritative Clarence and his assassination in the Tower, assisted by Richard Snee and Paula Langton, becomes the evening’s first moment to knit itself into an actual scene. Sarah Newhouse, a grim presence, turns the easily mesmerized Anne into one of the Furies (she near-strangles Richard and throws him to the ground in her rage) and Paula Plum’s familiar flamboyance, so indebted to Maggie Smith, makes a stylish turn out of Margaret (I can picture her Queen ironically crooning "Mad About the Boy" from a piano's curve). Greg Steres, new to me, is an intriguing combination of bulk and gentleness in several roles, a combination that would make him a memorable Hubert in KING JOHN, especially in the famous scene where he is commanded to blind the young Arthur. Marya Lowry, as Buckingham, and Jennie Israel, as Queen Elizabeth, are the above-mentioned actresses who ignite Mr. Kuntz in different ways: Ms. Lowry, ever my golden trumpet though no longer warmed by the sun, brings out his slyness (they share a marvelous “recognition” moment; two snakes coiling about each other) and Ms. Israel, a tall, handsome woman who seems apologetic regarding her epic stature, throws off restraint at the eleven o’clock hour to lock horns with Mr. Kuntz over Elizabeth’s marriageable daughter and the results are thrilling, on both sides. In my last scribbles about her, I mentioned that Bobbi Steinbach should alternate flawed or vulnerable women with her salts of the earth; as the Duchess of York, aged mother of the monster, Ms. Steinbach collapses to the ground, softening into humbleness, when she rises up to curse her son, she is a cracked pitcher that can still be filled to the brim and confirms another of my hunches, that Ms. Steinbach is meant to play Euripedes’ Hecuba, beaten but unbowed by war, by man, by gods. She is a tragedienne in the making, no matter how late in the afternoon.

HELP SAVE BOSTON'S HISTORIC GAIETY THEATRE!

"Richard III" (16 October-7 November)
THE ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT
Old South Meeting House, 310 Washington Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (866) 811-4111

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