DruidShaekespeare’s Richard III is a bruising experience, which is as it should be. The Irish troupe’s contribution to the tenth anniversary season of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival (playing thru November 23rd at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theatre), absolutely fulfills the festival’s mission of looking and listening without distraction for greater understanding. Shakespeare never hides Richard’s ambition and watching it played out in the ugliness The War of the Roses created makes it inevitable.
Director Garry Hynes has the perfect Richard in Aaron Monaghan. No one would ever mistake him for a weakling, but when things don’t go his way his voice becomes high pitched like a trapped animal. Forsaking the more sensational affections associated with the role (hunchback, lisp, grotesque makeup), he walks with two canes and turned-in legs. He introduces himself by expertly climbing out of a pit at the front of the stage (it will be put to much use later) and then delivering the “Winter of our discontent” monologue. Hynes has Monaghan emphasize that he is the perfect disruptor – loathed, ignored, unloved – of the tenuous peace created in Shakespeare’s “Henry” plays. For all of Act I and the beginning of Act II he succeeds, but confidence and calculation turn into psychosis. He never sees that the Duke of Richmond (Frank Blake), another noble in the background, will defeat him and establish The House of Tudor,
While these events take place 15th Century, England, Hynes proves how Shakespeare knew Richard’s behavior is timeless. Francis O’Connor’s dimly lit set is a metallic shell with an dirt floor containing one decoration: a hanging glass box containing a skull. His costumes carelessly mix medieval and contemporary styles, further reflecting an off-balance society, The crown consuming Richard is made of thrones. Executions carried out by Richard’s creepy henchman/bodyguard Catesby (Marty Rea) are not by sword but a power tool placed against the victim’s head emitting a jarring pop. Richard has little use for women, but when his mother The Duchess of York (Ingrid Craigie), sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth (Jane Brennan) and the ghostly deposed Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen) collectively grieve over their losses, they speak for all women.
The last connection between “then” and “now” is the most theatrical and chilling. After the Duke of Richmond, now Henry VII, kills Richard ending The War of the Roses, he stands up and starts walking using his sword and Richard’s as two canes just as his predecessor did. Shakespeare couldn’t say outright that history repeats itself, not when his royal patron was Elizabeth I, but he left enough room for interpretation,
White Light Festival
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 524 W. 59th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues