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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Richard III

Look, what is done cannot be now amended: Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes. . . — Richard (Act IV, sc. 3)

richard 3
Derek Wilson(Photo:Jerry Dalia)
I'd like to begin my review of William Shakespeare's play/analysis of probably the most controversial of all the English monarchs with a quote from someone else's perspective. This is from a recent article in the New York Times by Stephen Greenblatt. "In the early 1590s, Shakespeare sat down to write a play that addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath? How could the greatest empire in the world, ancient Roman historians asked themselves, have fallen into the hands of a Caligula?" That this final play in Shakespeare's tetralogy The Wars of the Roses will, in the light of our current and politically shameful (or is it fearful?) election year may still not be considered a comedy or even a dark comedy as it has often been considered in recent years, it is yet a reminder that this killer of a play is with verifiable certainty perversely comical.

— This play that ended a family feud lasting 63 years is on its historical surface about the conflict that existed between the houses of York and Lancaster. As seen through the clouded prism of our not quite yet historical perspective — i.e. current political reality — the production under the excellent direction of Paul Mullins, resonates with a deadly accuracy and earnestness. There is no way to misinterpret director Mullins' intent as the play is presented in totally contemporary fashion, design and decor. It should be noted also that Mullins played the title role superbly 10 years ago. Just be forewarned if you are sensitive to gun shots and the sounds of automatic weapons that will blast through the air quite unexpectedly during the course of the play.

It is safe to assume that Shakespeare, hopefully not turning over in his grave, would want us to take Richard III's course of villainy as a warning. It's as if the production earlier this season at STNJ of Coriolanus, in which we observed the rise and fall of a leader who holds the populace in contempt, served as preparation for seeing the demented sociopathic Richard III manipulate all around him through a solid three hours of unrelieved murder and mayhem. To be sure, the current Richard, as played by a thoroughly convincing Derek Wilson, comes well armed with the scenery-chewing actor's trunk load of winks, smirks and sneers that apparently come as obligatory affectations.

First attired in black leather and later in an informal black tux which is affectively more suitable for his growing stature and station, Wilson drags his twisted right leg around the stage with marked determination. He loses little time to insinuate to us that he is a clever fellow and only a slightly physically damaged devil incarnate. In a brief span of time, he takes us into his confidence. His credibly assured performance may not be as over-the-top as we have seen in recent years. But it is marked by its seriousness of purpose as he claws his way to the throne with only his customized walking stick for support.

Given his deformity, Wilson does achieve the nearly impossible — making this most heinous and revolting suitor attractive to the women he seduces. (I'm just thinking...) This human tower of pure venom has little trouble at all breaking down the crumbling defenses of the despairing Queen Elizabeth (Gretchen Hall), and the raving Queen Margaret (Carol Halstead.)

Fine performances all contribute to give this historical play its contemporary political relevance: Ames Adamson as duped Lord Hastings, John Hickok, as the duplicitous Duke of Buckingham and John Keabler as Clarence and Amaia Arana as the also ill-fated (who isn't?) Lady Anne To repeat what I've said before, who is so blind today not to see clearly Richard III's self-destructive course as it is supported and empowered by those unable to see through his feigned religiosity and his phony rhetoric?

Worth noting: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is available through October only when The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, in partnership with Drew University, presents a single copy of the original First Folio, one of the world's most valuable, rare and influential books. It will be on public display at Drew University's Mead Hall. The renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. launched an historic tour of the book in early 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Visitors can visit the first Folio exhibit before or after the show on matinee days and prior to evening performances.

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Richard III by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Mullins
Cast of Principals: Derek Wilson (Richard), Chris Hietikko (King Edward), Gretchen Hall (Queen Elizabeth), John Keabler (George, Duke of Clarence), Ellen Fiske (Duchess of York), Carol Halstead (Queen Margaret), Amaia Arana (Lady Anne), John Hickock (Duke of Buckingham), Ames Adamson (Lord Hastings)
Scenic Designer: Brittany Vasta
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Costume Designer: Kristin Isola
Fight Director: rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Margot Whitney
Running time: 3 hours including intermission
F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Rd.) Madison, N.J. (on the campus of Drew University)> (973) 408-5600
Performances: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm.
From 10/05/16 Opened 10/08/16 Ends 11/06/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/11/16

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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