Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Richard II"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2001 by Paul Barstow

"Richard II"

Reviewed by Paul Barstow

Can I be the only person who feels a sense of moral outrage when a magnificent history play, replete with astute observation about regality and rule, is trashed into an incoherent homoerotic freak-show, ending with an extended mime of necrophilia to the accompaniment and duration of Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" aria?

In Shakespeare's play Richard II's capricious, narcissistic self-indulgence lost him his rule. At the ART, Thomas Derrah's capricious, narcissistic self-indulgence loses him his role.

Darrah's co-conspirator, director Robert Woodruff, seems for this production never to have encountered a bad idea he didn't like and put to work. Press interviews (and ART experience) had led me to expect perversity, but I was unprepared for such total vulgarity of conception and execution. RICHARD II is about power and rich with poetry and pageantry and passion. This ART production has none of the above. The loss, surrender and exchange of power are ignored in favor of peep-show and lunatic antics. The poetry is, for the most part, badly spoken, with some of it mis-memorized. The only pageantry is the "eye-candy" of underwear-garbed beautiful young men publicly and progressively fondled by Richard. {EDWARD II, fine; Henry III of France, okay? But Richard II? dead wrong.] And the passion of Richard's decline and death is so unfeelingly portrayed as to lose him any shred of sympathy or pity.

I feel revulsion, as if a loved one has been tortured and killed before my eyes. But that should be Richard, not the play. I find it painful to remember this outrage on sense and sensibility. To list the individual wrong choices in design, editing, casting, characterizations, inflections, -- all the elements of ugliness and banality would require the length of the mutilated text.

Enough. Art's RICHARD II is an aesthetic hate-crime.

Paul Barstow

"Richard II" (till 20 June)
64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide