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A CurtainUp Review
Sean McNall, as the tortured, writhing old-school king, strikes the perfect balance between magisterial, paranoid, and philosophical. Mr. McNall reminds me a bit of Christopher Walken; this is a compliment. Alternating his rage at his reversal of fortune at the hands of his banished cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Grant Goodman), with stoicism and black humor, the unpredictable Mr. McNall, with effortless range, simply commands the stage as Richard II.
Other standouts in the cast are Dan Kremer as Richardís uncle and Henryís father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and, particularly, Bill Christ as Edmund, Duke of York, who can switch from stern to slapstick in seconds, masterfully controlling a difficult comedic switch in the latter part of the play.
The eloquent Richard II is written mostly in rhyming verse and can be clunky for actors. Director J.R. Sullivan has nimbly coached his cast to avoid hitting the rhymes too hard, so that the audience can focus on the action.
Harry Feinerís staging is ingenious, fashioning the interior of a castle from painted wire mesh, like that used for window screens. He also neatly rolls one of two staircases into the stage, when necessary, to create space for the several characters who sometimes occupy the stage simultaneously. Stephen Petrilliís exquisite lighting, through muslin made to represent stained glass, occasionally challenges the laws of physics in its expansion of space. Martha Hallyís costume design is simple, with unmistakable flourishes of regality that donít overpower.
No, the production is not perfect, but itís strong. Sure, I had a few quibbles. I know that dual (and, in this case, even quintuple!) roles are common, particularly in a play with more than 30 characters. Yet, there is something slightly jarring about seeing Jolly Abraham, who plays Richardís Queen, re-emerge later as Harry Percy, one of the anti-king plotters. It was also disconcerting to see the distinctive Chris Mixon as Thomas Mowbray, the recently banished Duke of Norfolk, re-enter the stage a few scenes later as the Earl of Northumberland. A group of high school audience members sitting near the stage began to poke each other in the ribs, trying to figure it all out.
A bit of practical advice: if you see the show, try to grab a bite to eat beforehand. Intermission is only 12 minutes long, and the night I saw the show it was more like eight. Youíll want to feel comfortable to enjoy this solid performance of a fascinating and sometimes neglected Shakespearean masterpiece.
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