Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Richard II"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Joe Coyne


Fruit of the Loin Monologues

A Review by Joe Coyne of
"Richard II"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Woodruff (*)

Set Design by David R. Gammons
Lightin Design by Stephen Strawbridge
Sound Design by Darron L. West
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Movement Saar Magal

Richard II............................Thomas Derrah (*)
Young Man................................Jonno Roberts
Duke of Gloucester.........................John Feltch
John of Gaunt.........................Alvin Epstein (*)
Duchess of Gloucester.....Karen MacDonald (*)
Queen to Richard.................................Jodi Lin
Richard's attendant...................Darrin Browne
Bishop of Carlisle........................Remo Airaldi
Thomas Mowbray....................Benjamin Evett
Henry Bolingbroke.....................Bill Camp (*)
Aumerle.......................................Sean Dugan
Bagot.......................................Trevor Oswalt
Green..........................................Jim Spencer
Bushy.............................................Tim Kang
Duke of York..........John Douglas Thompson
Lord Ross...................................Robert Ross
Sir Piers Exton...............................Tim Kang

Robert Woodruff who received the Elliot Norton Award as Best Director (Large Company) for "Full Circle" saw something in "Richard II" that simply is not there. His version far exceeds the interpretation of the existing play and his wonderings extend to cancerous cyst proportions. What might have been a dream sequence memory of a portion of the play results in a self indulgent Provincetown diversion with lack of artistic self control. It is the type of idea that appears in drama classes and is best left on the wouldn't-it-be-interesting floor. With this stillborn, let's hope it is out of Mr. Woodruff's system so he can return to productions which are merely outstandingly interesting. It is more stupid than offensive.

I have put an asterisk beside the name of the other company members who have received Elliot Norton or I.R.N.E. awards and there are several more members (including John Douglas Thompson) that will soon make that list. In ART's current production of "Richard II" you will find all of this competence and ability poorly utilized by Mr. Woodruff. Look solely to the director for fault. Mr. Woodruff is quoted in an ART publication on his view of Richard II, "as a man who understands that the ultimate artistic act is to destroy his own work." Mr. Woodruff will continue doing this nightly through June 10th.

Richard II is a petty and self indulgent king who throughout the play continually reflects on his condition. His petulant banishment of two followers and adverse actions against his supporters isolates him from his subjects. Surrounded by "favorites," Richard is planning the Irish Wars when Henry Bolingbroke, a cousin with pretensions to the crown, returns from banishment with an army to claim his rightful inheritance. Richard is forced to abdicate and is eventually killed. Bolingbroke, indirectly involved with Richard's death, ascends the thrown as Henry IV.

Play it now in pink to the extreme with flamboyant Richard in drag as a kinglyqueen followed by rentboys in jock straps, who seem of age, prancing around the baths. Tom Derrah, as Richard, fawns and paws the boys, dresses in his Hara Krishna shirt while faithfully delivering the lines. The royal court is a full participant in the cross dressing - undressing. This is gay and merry England of 1400.

The first line is spoken about five minutes after the start of the play. Before this we have seen tutu attired Richard smoking and primming, a sexual encounter and perhaps murder by an associate of the King to (possibly) a stage hand. We have seen Mowbray and Bolingbroke exchange their black modern dress for leathery corsetted dueling uniforms. We have seen the _________ they intend to fight with. We have seen enough.

If there is a view of the plot held by the director, he does not share it with his audience. If having the backstage crew visible to the audience on each side of the stage was intended to distract and disturb, then the effect was achieved. He works against comprehension and understanding and it drags down the quality aspects of the production to footnotes: a lifting stage with a spa/pool/prison; opera music scene setting, expansive tables on the open stage, Tom and Bill's performances.

The failure of an overview spread to costume designer Catherine Zuber's selections or lack thereof. Without the identification of any consistent theme we are entreated with enhanced BVD's, black pullovers and jeans,Victorian frock coats, your basic gray thong ware and for two of thecharacters, reddish lace dog collars and robes.

I almost wrote what a difference an intermission makes as the play resumed with little of the supratransvestite seamy setting. Tom Derrah and Bill Camp work hard to rescue a production lacking in consistency and to gain balance. Bill Camp with ease works against the rigid, stayed and incomprehensible staging. He actually moves around the stage, uses gestures and makes for realtime viewing.

But for a reason not known or even guessed by this writer, the play ends not with a cleansing Crusade and the pardoning of three traitors by Bolingbroke, but in rolling necrophilia with the dead Richard. It is a haunting image but of no interest to anyone who wants to understand "Richard II." If it is to be believed that Richard is struggling with the existential dilemma to define what it means to be human (a paraphrase of Mr. Woodruff's) you not only willnot find it here, you won't come close.

With great acting, stellar visualizations overlayed with his decidedly warped version of the play, it is an embarrassment.

Joe Coyne
jcoyne@usa.net


"Richard II" (11 May - 19 June)
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 547-8300


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