After its epic 2016 outdoor production of Henry VI: The War of the Roses this summer, Bare Theatre has slid into the rise and fall of the next monarchy. Now, in a time of peace (after the War of the Roses officially ended), Richard III is more House of Cards than Game of Thrones. Clawing his way into the highest office in the land, by whatever means necessary (murder included), Richard, Duke of Gloucester (played by Seth A. Blum) — with his sly charm and direct asides to the audience — is an obvious inspiration for Michael Dobbs’ 1989 novel, House of Cards, which enjoyed both U.K. and U.S. television adaptations.
Continuing with the semi-post-apocalyptic look of the Mad Max-inspired Henry VI director Lucinda Danner Gainey has taken on the epic task of staging Richard III without the support of a design team. Props master Ann Marie Crosmun is on hand to provide the handful of pieces needed, as she did with Henry VI; but the hair, makeup, and costume design was completed by the cast themselves. What little set there is, was carried over from Henry VI, making a visual tie-in with that production. Alas, there are no lighting or sound cues.
The cast proves that women do, indeed, belong in the world of politics. The ensemble is mostly cohesive, and the most engaging scenes are those with a filled stage. Reprising her role from Bare Theatre’s Henry VI, is Maggie Lea as Elizabeth (formerly Lady Grey), queen consort to Edward IV. Aside from Richard himself, Elizabeth is the most demanding role in the play: a hurricane of rage and emotional trauma. Lea avoids s one-note (“woe-is-me”) performance, and manages to find variety in even the most redundant speeches.
Reprising the role of Queen Margaret, widow of Henry VI, is the awe-inspiring Rebecca Blum. From her entrance, Blum controls the stage; and her Mad Margaret the Prophetess (literally?) is funny and frightening. It is some of Blum’s finest work to date.
Completing the trifecta of strong female leads is Kacey Reynolds Schedler. The Duchess of York is the strongest of the three women — mother to the Bastard Boys of York and the play’s matriarch — and Schedler plays her with grace and sincerity.
Lachlan Watson has shown tremendous growth — since his turn as King Henry VI — in the role of the Marquess of Dorset; he acts with the depth of a much more experienced performer. The comedic work of Aneisha Montague and Laura Parker give the show a desperately needed boost of energy near the end of William Shakespeare’s first act. Matt Lyles is an intense and brooding Duke of Clarence, whereas Sean Malone delineates his two roles with great skill, giving us a pitiful, withered King Edward IV and an enthusiastic, foppish Mayor of London.
The trouble lies in the piece’s length and general lack of energy. The vitality of Honest Pint Theatre’s 2016 uncut production of Hamlet is what kept it alive for four hours. The lack of any soundscape or music, or any lighting cues whatsoever, made this production, at 3+ hours in length, tedious at times. We kept hoping for some clear transitions between time periods and moods, but there were none to be had. After the epic battle sequences of Henry VI, the few minutes we spend on the Battle of Bosworth Field feel rushed and anticlimactic.
This cast is more than capable of bringing the Bard’s words to life, as Bare Theatre has done successfully in the past; but the lack of editing has often left them treading water.
A number of bits and bobs unnecessary to the plot could have been cut entirely (such as Tyrell’s monologue, though well-delivered); and some line pruning could be helpful (such as some of Richard’s counterplay with Lady Anne and Elizabeth). There are only 13 Shakespearean characters with more lines than Richard, and a heavy cut to his material is needed in order to help the problems with line mastery.
Marketing the show as a continuation of Henry VI is also somewhat misleading, given the extreme differences in Shakespeare’s writing and in Bare’s presentation of the two pieces. Still, this production is worth seeing if you are a true Shakespeare nerd or an anglophile, or appreciate the work that Bare Theatre does.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article113141063.html and Nov. 5th mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article112438212.html; Nov. 5th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Chelsea S. Waddelow: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8202; and Oct. 26th Hillsborough, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Lucinda Danner Gainey and actors Seth Blum, Maggie Lea, and Pimpila Violette for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-102616-permanent-archive/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 6th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle and the Nov. 7th review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/bare-theatres-richard-iii-at-sonorous-road-theatre-is-a-show-that-should-be-seen/ and and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/strong-acting-makes-bare-theatres-production-of-shakespeares-richard-iii-another-success/, respectively.)
Bare Theatre presents RICHARD III at 8 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12, 2 p.m. Nov. 13, 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. Nov. 20 at Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27612.
TICKETS: $19.62 ($11.34 students and $16.52 seniors, and active-duty military personnel), including service fee.
BOX OFFICE: 919-322-8819 or http://richard-iii.bpt.me/.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/baretheatre.org/richard-iii and https://www.facebook.com/events/1175481185837967/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://ksr-video.imgix.net/projects/2687226/video-717133-h264_high.mp4.
PRESENTER: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre. VENUE: https://www.sonorousroadtheatre.com/, https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
King Richard III of England (1452-85): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_III_of_England (Wikipedia).
Richard III (c. 1592 historical play): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_III_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script (First Folio, 1623): http://web.archive.org/web/20081006104456/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaR3F.html (University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/richard-iii-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Lucinda Danner Gainey (director): http://www.lucindagainey.com/ (official website) and http://facebook.com/lucinda.d.gainey (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.