There is a challenge inherent in any production of a play by William Shakespeare: How to make it fresh and interesting for the “old-timer” Shakespeare fans while remaining true-to-the-text and making it accessible to the first-timers. Director Lucinda Danner Gainey succeeds in this endeavor, royally, in Bare Theatre’s current presentation of Richard III! The lengthy script has been judiciously cut, but nothing important or delightful is missing. The casting is strong, and the pace is brisk.
Sonorous Road Theatre’s intimate thrust stage is an ideal venue, and Lucinda Gainey’s choice to keep the lighting “natural” is another plus. That is, with our fellow audience members visible, we found ourselves treated to a second “show,” that being the reactions of other theatergoers to the onstage show. This is a definite advantage to anyone seeking a completely satisfying theater experience.
As Richard of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England), Seth Blum gets the audience eating out of his hand from the start. It is a rare feat for an actor to get an audience to laugh raucously as his character shares the plots of his villainy, and it is rarer still to evoke applause from this audience after they have witnessed the character execute these plots. Blum scores on both counts; and, even though we realize that Richard is heinous and despicable, Blum drums up and keeps our sympathy for Richard right up until his treachery begins to alienate his closest onstage allies.
Rebecca Blum’s Queen Margaret is a worthy adversary for Richard. As a result of the intricate blocking, Margaret just seems to appear onstage rather than walk on, that is, our attention was so totally focused elsewhere, that we seldom noticed her until she was in position onstage. And Rebecca Blum’s mastery of the language matches that of her husband Seth.
As Buckingham, Benjamin Apple manages to wring humor out of otherwise straight situations. Furthermore, changes in Buckingham’s loyalties are well-motivated and well-played.
Right down the line, this is a strong and competent cast. Secondary characters all have distinct personalities — there are no “spear-carrying robots.”
We enjoyed, in particular, the duo who visits Clarence in the Tower of London. Aneisha Montague and Laura Parker add just the right amount of Shakespearean clownishness to these roles. Both actors appear as other characters later, and both differentiate between their characters distinctly.
Likewise, Benji Taylor Jones (as Ratcliffe) adds unexpected spice to her character. Maxine Eloi (as Lady Anne) plays well against Richard in the early scene that they share. Lady Ann obviously loathes Richard from the start. And she is clearly seduced (to the dark side?) expertly.
The decision to set this production in a post-apocalyptic era is sound, because it helps the audience understand the uncertainty and flux of English society in the 15th century. This setting also enables interesting costuming and armaments. Actors are able to further define their characters by their choice of clothing in these desperate times and by their choice of weapons as well.
Another interesting choice is, the facial tattoos and make-up. Once again, these enabled the actors to further define their characters. We found some of the facial tattoos a bit distracting; but on the whole, they were good. As far as make-up is concerned, we give Maxine Eloi first prize in this competition.
From The Department of Picky-Picky: We realize that it is easy to overact rage and sorrow and despair; even the most accomplished actors can fall into this trap. And doing so becomes painfully obvious when the audience is in such close proximity to the action. For example, if profuse sobbing and wailing is not validated by visible tears (or at least by the visible action of wiping them away), we find it hard to buy into. While there was very little of this (and only by a few characters), there was enough to be a distraction.
On the other hand, we want to commend Kacey Reynolds Schedler for her expertly understated performances of her highly emotional scenes. In close quarters such as these, honest facial expressions and body language count for a lot. Watching Schedler, we felt that we were learning from a master.
One final nit to pick: as one-time a student of Elizabethan English, Kurt cringes when he hears the word “doth” pronounced as “dawth.” (He says it wouldn’t be as bad if the same character pronounced the word “does” as “dawz.” If that were the case, he says he could chalk it up to a difference in dialect.)
We feel we should warn you: the show lasts nearly three hours, but it’s time well-spent. Even though it is autumn, we recommend that you go to Sonorous Road Theatre for Bare Theatre’s production of Richard III and witness “the winter of our discontent” as it is, indeed, “made glorious summer.”
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 5th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Chelsea S. Waddelow: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8202; Nov. 5th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article112438212.html; 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. 8th review by Dustin K. Britt, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/bare-theatres-richard-iii-at-sonorous-road-theatre-is-a-show-that-should-be-seen/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/bare-theatres-post-apocalyptic-production-of-richard-iii-is-overlong-needs-pruning/, 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).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.