Oh, what a tyrant: Richard III at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (review)

The part of King Richard in Richard III is a plum for any actor lucky enough to be cast in the role. Part stand-up comic, part perennial outsider, and part moustache-twirling villain, Richard is equally delectable and murderous. Get a good Richard in any production, and you’re set: get someone who only sees the evil in his actions and you’ve a missed opportunity. Fortunately for us, luck abounds at Chesapeake Shakespeare: actor Vince Eisenson delivers a well poisoned apple on a silvered platter.

Vince Eisenson as King Richard in Richard III at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

Eisenson’s Richard is not so much textbook evil as a winning combination of character flaws in the extreme. He’s an intelligent man, and not without genuine humor. Yet trapped in his hunchback body and surrounded by the perfect people of the nobility, he sees a morality-free way to rise above his second-son status. Add to this a bitter envy of the perfection around him, a clear assessment of others’ foibles and vanity, and an utter lack of empathy for friends and foes alike, and you have a classic case of This Isn’t Going To End Well.

Murdering nearly everyone he’s related to, Richard in the end is undone by the very thing that set him upon the throne: an inability to feel as others do. Spoiler alert: he dies of course, and the spark of the play is extinguished the moment he expires. Yes, he’s a heartless murderer, but oh, Eisenson makes him fun to watch, and we’ll miss him a bit as he tumbles down dead, slain by one of those blandly perfect nobility fellows mentioned earlier. Although… chances are if Richard had lived longer than Act 2, he’d have soon emptied the kingdom of people to murder. Ah well, I suppose it’s for the best.

Vince Eisenson as King Richard and Lizzi Albert as Lady Anne Neville in Richard III at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

Yet Eisenson isn’t the only good actor to watch. As Lady Anne, Lizzie Albert has but a few scenes, and yet she makes sense of the difficult scene in which Richard woos her by her husband’s casket. (Three guesses as to who killed the lady’s husband.) Ron Heneghan, as the Duke of Clarence, has one of the best (and often overlooked) monologues in the play, in which he describes to his jailer a dream of impending doom. It colors the whole of the first act, in no small part to the skill of the actor; you know he’s doomed, he knows he’s doomed too- it’s moving and inevitable.

Lesley Malin, as Queen Elizabeth, is the moral compass of the play: losing her husband and two of her children to Richard’s predations, she stands up to him only to be driven almost speechless by his subsequent plans to marry her daughter to seal his grip on the throne. Her exit, as she grapples with the unthinkable- for Richard is the girl’s uncle as well as her brothers’ murderer- verges on madness.

This production is set in World War I, a nice mirror image of the aggressions during the historic Richard’s time. Direction by Ian Gallaner is deftly done- this is a long play, filled with many characters and shifting alliances. It would be easy to lose an audience, and understandable to see brief lapses in attention, but the evening I attended, the audience was fully mesmerized. Battle scenes, so often the bane of small stages and limited budgets, were particularly well done, with tableaux of wraiths in gasmasks and soldiers wielding bayonets silhouetted against white scrims. The fight sequence, choreographed by Christopher Nielbling, was especially well done. Sound by David Crandall deserves a special mention, for the muffled and indecipherable rumblings of the populace, interspersed with snippets of WWI song recordings, effectively delivered the battle to our ears.

Vince Eisenson as King Richard and (right) James Jager as Henry Tudor in Richard III at  Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (Photo: Teresa Castracane)

Set by Daniel O’Brien was likewise effective: a dull monotone of a grey platform spewed out a fog for the battle, and glancing above the spare set were dagger-like triangles hung from the ceiling. Subtle, and a little unnerving at the same time. Costumes, (Heather C Jackson) were uneven: some of the womens’ Edwardian pencil skirts were spot on, and Queen Elizabeth in particular wore some well researched historic pieces. But the men fared less well, with a mishmash of various periods of military attire, only some of which could be mistaken as WWI-era. And poor Richard himself was consigned for most of the play to wear an ill-fitting, long jacket of no particular historic period. King Richard, wicked though he is, should have had a better costume.

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Want to go?

Richard III

closes March 5, 2017
Details and tickets
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As mentioned in previous reviews, if you haven’t been to Chesapeake Shakespeare before, it’s well worth the trek to Baltimore just to step into their glorious new theatre, a modern interpretation of the original Globe Theatre. There’s a bar open throughout the show, and nary a bad seat in the house. Live music both before the show and during the intermission is a tradition there, and this production features both well known and little known World War I ditties.

So pull up a seat, have a red wine (well, what else would you drink for Richard III?) and enjoy the play and its music- my favorite tune of the evening was the 1917 hit “Oh, Oh, Oh, What a Lovely War”!

 

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Richard III by William Shakespeare . Director/Sound Designer: Ian Gallaner . Cast: Vince Eisenson as Richard III; Lesley Malin as Queen Elizabeth; Patrick Miller as Sir James Blunt/Mayor/Photographer/Ensemble; Frank B Moorman as King Edward IV; Lizzie Albert as Lady Anne; Gregory Burgess as Lord Stanley; Dave Gamble as Lord Hastings/Lord Chamberlain; Ron Heneghan as George, Duke of Clarence; Mia Boydston as Prince Edward/Child of Duke of Clarence; Garenth Swing as Prince Richard/Child of Duke of Clarence; Greta Boeringer as Duchess of York; Mike Crowley as Anthony Woodville; Eric Poch as Ghost of King Henry VI/First Murderer/Ensemble; Scott Farquhar as Thomas Grey; Scott Alan Small as Duke of Buckingham; Bart Debickie as Sir Brakenbery; Joshua Witt as Sir Catesby; Kelsey Painter as Sir Tyrrell; Lee Conderacci as Second Murderer/Ensemble; James Jager as Henry Tudor/Ensemble; Kate Fornton as Ensemble; Matthew Ancarrow as Ensemble . Technical, Lighting and Scenic Designer: Daniel O’Brien . Costume Design: Heather C Jackson . Sound Design: David Crandall . Production Manager: Kyle Rudgers . Fight Choreographer: Christopher Niebling . Stage Manager: Lauren Engler . Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.

 

Jill Kyle-Keith About Jill Kyle-Keith

Jill Kyle-Keith, age unknown, is the longtime owner and Queen of Beale Street Puppets in Baltimore, Maryland. Bravely hanging on to the idea that vaudeville will someday return and this Internet thing is just a fad, she has foolishly made her living in live entertainment for over thirty years. The end result is that she has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows over the years and now feels qualified to offer her unasked-for opinions to an unsuspecting public.
And oh yeah, she has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and the DC Fringe in years past, and was awarded a "Best of Fringe" by The Scotsman newspaper and a distressingly bad review by some loser online for the DC show, which was gleefully posted by her on the theater door and resulted in all remaining shows selling out. Moral is: sure, good reviews are nice, but bad reviews are catnip to the curious.

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