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A CurtainUp Review
Richard II

By Elyse Sommer
I wasted time and now doth time waste me.--- the deposed Richard, aware too late how he might have more fruitfully spent his time in power.

Michael Cumpsty as Richard II
Michael Cumpsty as Richard II (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Michael Cumpsty certainly has what it takes to play the monarch who loves the crown he inherited as a boy but is too short-sighted to use his power wisely. He's glamorous and handsome, with a mellifluent baritone that does honor to the poetry that's chockablock full of unforgettable lines.

Cumpsty's Richard is perhaps a bit too cool and macho to fully capture the essential weakness of this king whose tragedy is not so much the loss of his throne and his life but that these events come as a result of weak, unwise decisions and squandered time. Not for him the effeminate persona donned by Ralph Fiennes at BAM six seasons ago. Instead his monarch is arrogant, a rock star personality who has no problem having his image blown up shades of a museum sized Chuck Close or Andy Warhol type photo montage. At times the crown seems to weigh heavily enough on him to give him a headache requiring a head massage from an aide, and he an his courtiers find relaxation with cocaine. Yet, for all the air of entitlement stemming from being crowned at age nine, there's always that final act's poignance of a fallen monarch turned self-aware poet.

With the country embroiled in a war founded on ill-considered reasoning, the story of a ruler making disastrous decisions is not just pertinent, but painfully so. Brian Kulick's black, white and blood-red production misses no opportunity to underscore Richard II's timely aspects. There's one scene in particular that would only have someone who's spent the last five years in a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep fail to recall the much televised images of a toppling Saddam Hussein's statue.

While the scene that greets the audience looks pretty bare bones -- a platform with a red carpet, some gold painted chairs and a pale wooden backwall -- there's a lot more to Tom Gleeson's set than meets the eye. That back wall slides open and shut quite dramatically, enhanced by Jorge Muelle and Brian H. Scott's mood supportive sound effects and lighting. The modern evening clothes worn in the early scenes, have a few medieval touches like tall black boots and gauntlets for the dueling Mowbray and Bolinbroke. However, Richard's white military tunic is so well-fitted that he looks more like a famous conductor ascending the concert podium than a warrior king about to lose his kingdom.

Except for the changeable back wall this is a less high drama filled and emotion engaging production than last season's Hamlet, another Kulick and Cumpsty collaboration (review). And Richard II, for all its linguistic assets will probably never be as popular as the Henry I and Henry II. plays following Bolinbroke's ascent to the throne.

The cast overall performs competently. Graham Winton is properly dumbfounded and enraged when the king not only exiles him but willfully takes over his family property. Jon DeVries has some touching moments as John of Gaunt and the King's gardener. But the one really outstanding performance comes from George Morfogen whose Duke of York is a truly grand Shakespearean figure. On the other hand, the most disappointing performance comes from David Greenspan, an actor-playwright I've always admired. With Cumpsty opting for manliness, the title character's frequent homosexual flavor is given to Greenspan's Bagot and Bishop of Carlisle. Unfortunately he hardly differentiates between the two.

Ultimately, Richard is a man who's inept and stubbornly heedless of doing the right thing but who gains humility and is touched by the lyricism of the poet when he loses his crown. It takes suffering and loss for him to gain majesty and insight -- and the indestructibly beautiful language for this or any Richard II to pull us in.

As you can see from the links to other Richard II reviews below, the play is produced more often in Great Britain than in this country.
Richard II (Old Vic-2005)
Richard II (Old Globe 2003)
Richard II (Royal Shakespeare 2001)
Richard II/Shakespeare (Almeida Theatre-London )
Richard II (BAM)
Richard II/Shakespeare
(Pearl Theatre)
Richard II & III (Off-Broadway)

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Brian Kulick
Cast: Michael Cumpsty (Richard), Jon DeVries ( John of Gaunt, Salisbury, Gardener) George Morfogen (Duke of York), Graham Winton(Bolingbroke), Doan Ly (Queen Isabelle), David Greenspan (Bagit/Bishop), Jesse Pennington (Aumerle), Craig Baldwin (Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland,), Ellen Parker (Duchess of Gloucester, Lady in Waiting, Duchess of York) Bernarda De Paula (Bushy, Lord Ross, Exton).
Sets: Tom Gleeson
Costumes: Oana Botez-Ban
Lights: Brian H. Scott,
Sound: Jorge Muelle
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, (212) 677-4210
From 9/06 to 10/15/06; opening 9/17/06.
Tuesday through Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm. Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on September 16th press matinee
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