Saturday, October 22, 2011

PAE's Richard III (21 October 2011)

Despite the fact that I found Horrible Histories’ song about Richard III running through my head during about half of the production (and contradicting most of what I saw on stage), I really have no problem with Shakespeare’s failure to stick with historical fact in his play. Granted, it’s pro-Tudor propaganda. But it has a compelling story line and powerful characters and plenty of drama. And Shakespeare was writing drama, not textbooks.

Portland Actors Ensemble did what they do best: clear, simple, minimalistic (set-wise), good Shakespeare. The fact that they were performing indoors instead of in a park somewhere changed the game a little – giving us sound and lighting cues. The sound cues were ever so slightly too loud or, in most cases, ended rather abruptly, but I’m a sound snob, and most people probably wouldn’t care.

For some reason, this production of Richard III reminded me a lot of Macbeth. There’s even a bit where Richard says that he was fated to do what he did, and we think, “Fated or not, you’re still going down for it!” Richard’s duplicitous actions and side comments to the audience (especially at the beginning) also reminded me of Edmund in King Lear – “Look, I’m a horrible person and I’m OK with that. Just watch this!” Interestingly, Shakespeare wrote Richard III 14 years before both Lear and Macbeth.

Despite the questionable historical accuracy, the Richard in the play is a baddie, no doubt there. Nathan Dunkin does a fantastic job giving us the villain that we love to hate. He’s cruel, ruthless, bloodthirsty, manipulative and disgusting. How he worms his way into Lady Anne’s graces after he has killed her husband and her father is a bit of a mystery still. Sure, Richard is charismatic… but the scene where he woos her over her father’s dead body didn’t quite convince me. I wonder, though, if there’s any way to play it convincingly.

For a cast dominated by men, the women’s parts stood out exceptionally bright. Linda Goertz’s Margaret was chilling and tragic. Since I didn’t bother to even read a synopsis of the play before I came, and since my only previous knowledge of it was from the Ian McKellen movie, I started out at a bit of a loss as to who everyone was and where Margaret fit in to the whole thing. But it didn’t take long for me to catch on. And even without knowing her exact motivation at the beginning, there was no doubt of her complete hatred for everyone in the royal family. Allison Rangell was brilliant as Lady Anne; Margaret Darling played an amazing Queen Elizabeth; Paige Jones’s mother to Richard, Edward and Clarence was intense. Tons of props, too, to Kate Belden, especially for her very convincing job as the Prince of Wales.

The play was full of great moments. Matt Smith’s Clarence recounting his dream in the Tower was heartbreaking. The scene where the murderers (Arthur Delaney and Mark Rothwell) come to kill Clarence was funny, and yet deadly serious. It also brought up the theme of conscience, which reappears at the end when Richard dreams of the ghosts of all his victims. The dream sequence was wonderfully and disturbingly done. Dunkin slow progression from overconfidence to sheer terror might have been one of the best moments in the play. The scene in the chapel with Elizabeth, Margaret and the Dutchess (Richard’s mother), though subdued, still had an intensity that makes it hard to forget. And the pre-battle speeches of Richmond and Richard, set so closely together, sent shivers down my spine. Special props to Ty Boice, whose Richmond at the end was so completely good and wholesome and just what we want to root for to end Richard’s tyranny, but whose Tyrell (who Richard sends to kill the princes in the Tower) was so completely rotten. Brilliantly done.

I’m still pondering what exactly I walked away with when the evening was over (other than the dopey smile I usually leave the theater with). I think there was something significant about conscience in the whole thing… how conscience ignored or twisted for so long deserts you when you need it the most… something like that. A second (or third) viewing will help me sort that out. But that’s the wonderful thing about PAE’s productions – I can go as often as my schedule allows. Thanks, PAE!

Do yourself a favor and get to see this play. It runs through the first weekend in November at Concordia University. (Click here for dates and times.) There were only about 45 people in the audience the night I went, which is really tragic for the time and energy and effort everyone involved put in. They recommend a $5 donation to Boxy… but seriously, folks, $5 for that caliber of Shakespeare is a steal!

As usual, nicely done, everyone!

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