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2012 FringeNYC Roundup #1

Richard III

Ron Cephas Jones leads an excellent cast in the Public Theater's speedily-performed and effective production of Shakespeare's play.

By New York City
Michelle Beck, Ron Cephas Jones
in Richard III
(© Joan Marcus)
Michelle Beck, Ron Cephas Jones
in Richard III
(© Joan Marcus)
The breakneck pace with which Amanda Dehnert directs her production of William Shakespeare's Richard III, now at The Public Theater for a final stop after its tour of prisons and community centers, impressively accomplishes something other less edited treatments seldom do.

What you get here, which should be catnip to patrons, is the fierce urgency that the ruthlessly ambitious title character (played by Ron Cephas Jones) puts into his ultimately successful climb to the throne. Nothing is going to stop this driven man -- not even an intermission. As the 95-minute treatment hustles by, the absence of certain theatrical niceties doesn't matter as much as the convictions of the nine energetic players as they go about their business.

They're led by Jones, who's been revered this last many years for his abilities usually in secondary roles but who now takes command as the focal character. Though Jones' Richard walks with a leg brace and his supposedly malformed left hand folded across his stomach, he's a man on the run.

This is a humorless Richard out to undermine the court for the members' disdain over his physical afflictions. Throughout Richard's uninterrupted climb, Jones carries off every crucial scene from his punning opening "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York" to his final declarations of guilt on the battlefield.

Among the eager-and-willing supporting players, the standout is Suzanne Bertish, who takes on three roles, the most notable being mad Queen Margaret. The sequence in which she rains curses on everyone within earshot is a personal triumph. But there should be cheers, as well, for Michelle Beck, Keith Eric Chappelle, Michael Crane, Lynn Hawley, Miriam A. Hyman, Kevin Kelly and Alex Hernandez, who doubles on eerily squeaky violin.

Because of the places to which the show toured prior to the Public, Dehnert has called for only the bare essentials from set and costume designer Linda Roethke, who decided necessity must be the mother of invention.

The sole set piece, placed on the 14-foot by 14-foot playing area is a cloth showing a pertinent section of the gnarled and. partially rotten York-Lancaster family tree is scrawled. The terrible beauty of the cloth, which is subsequently carried around, is that when Richard has wiped out yet another relative standing between him and his lofty goal, he can use blood-red paint to obliterate that name.

Dehnert doesn't entirely honor the sanctity of her stage but instead has the actors work the aisles and often sit alongside audience members. She also has Roethke provide a basket of assorted crowns from which Richard can choose for his coronation, an appropriate touch for this crowning achievement.


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