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A CurtainUp DC Review
Richard III

Look when he fawns he bites; and when he bites his venom tooth will rankle to the death.

Bloody hell! The production of Richard III now at the Shakespeare Theatre's Harman Hall is as macabre as a horror movie, vile and disturbing.

Given that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is a character well known to the audience, it is a director's and lead actor's challenge to bring something new to the play and to the part. Director David Muse has made Richard III "modern" by decreasing the number of characters and having actors speak not in Shakespearean cadences but in language that, although not contemporary, is much closer to today's speech. A wise choice that makes the plot comprehensible but less poetic. Also abetting clarification are surtitles projected on to the set's upper level describing who is who and what has happened, help where help is needed.

Debra Booth's set and Lindsay Jones's original music and sound design serve the script well. They add greatly to the dank and sinister industrial atmosphere conjuring images of the Tower of London and a torture chamber. A huge spotlight resembling the sinister source of light favored by dentists adds nothing however and, in the final scene on Bosworth Field is very much out of place.

Murell Horton's superb costume designs begin with whites for the women, beiges and browns for the men, end with black for everyone, adding to the solemnity of events.

Using echoes and reverbs, Lindsay Jones's sounds haunt the production, especially in the scenes where courtiers et al make by the steel-on-steel sharpening of knives and snapping of leather straps that precede yet another murder. (For those keeping score, the number of murders is ten.) The rhythmic noise made by banging 10-feet high sticks on the ground (a theatrical device used to great effect by the Royal Shakespeare Company's brilliant Hamlet set in Africa that played at the Kennedy Center last summer) and the beating of chests and thighs is effective although such movement raises the question "why are they doing this?"

Matthew Rauch's Richard III lacks the grotesque physical features usually associated with the part. He does not have a hunched back or a withered arm. However, he does have a cast made from straps on his left leg and sometimes he carries a cane. The physicality is less demonic. Rauch's smile is ingratiating as it should be and his asides to the audience well placed, but his delivery of Shakespeare's language sounds more high school than high art.

The production is well served by most of the women though; particularly Lizan Mitchell as a fiery Margaret of Anjou, Robynn Rodriguez as a savvy Queen Elizabeth, Sofiya Cheyenne as a judicious Mayor of London and Cara Ricketts as the beautiful and easily misled Lady Anne. Evelyn Spahr, as the victorious Earl of Richmond, a travesty of casting that makes no artistic nor historical sense whatsoever, is unconvincing.

In a large cast such as the one assembled here the performances that stand out are by Christopher Michael McFarland's Duke of Buckingham; Todd Scofield's Earl of Rivers, Derek Lee Weeden's Lord Hastings and Harry A. Winter's Archbishop of Canterbury.

For a critic to compare one production to another is, in my opinion, grossly unfair. However, for those of us who have been around for a while, who see and read Shakespeare quite often, the memory of one production or performance over another is inevitable. I cannot help remembering Sir Laurence Olivier's and Sir Ian McKellan's Richards or, indeed, when Michael Kahn, the outgoing Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre, directed Stacy Keach in the part. Those were Richards for the ages. This one is nothing but blood, guts and horror.

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Richard III by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Muse
Cast: Logan Matthew Baker (Young Duke of York); David Bishins (King Edward IV/Sir Richard Ratcliffe); Sofiya Cheyenne (Mayor of London); Sheldon Donenberg (Ensemble); Elizabeth Erb (Ensemble); Jonathan Feuer (Lord Gray); Ahmad Kamal (Brakenbury); John Keabler (Sir William Catesby); Mihir Kumar (Ensemble); Christopher McFarland (Duke of Buckingham); Matthew Aldwin McGee (Murderer 2); Sam Midwood (Lord Lovel/Ensemble); Lizan Mitchell (Margaret of Anjou); Charlie Niccolini (Prince Edward); Cody Nickell (George, Duke of Clarence/James Tyrrel); Matthew Rauch (Richard, Duke of Gloucester); Cara Ricketts (Lady Anne of Neville); Robynn Rodriguez (Queen Elizabeth); Michael Rudko (Lord Stanley); Billy Saunders, Jr. (Ensemble); Todd Scofield (Earl of Rivers); Stephen G. Shetler (Ensemble); Sandra Shipley (Duchess of York); David Ryan Smith (Murderer 1/Scrivener); Evelyn Spahr (Earl of Richmond); Andrew Thornton (Ensemble); Derrick Lee Weeden (Lord Hastings); Harry A. Winter (Archbishop of Canterbury).
Scenic Designer, Debra Booth
Costume Designer, Murell Horton
Lighting Designer, Lap Chi Chu
Original Music and Sound Design: Lindsay Jones
Movement Director: Steph Paul
Fight Choreographer:Robb Hunter
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall
February 5 to March 10, 2019
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at February 11, 2019 performance.

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