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Peter Dinklage in Richard III
(Photo © Michal Daniel)
At first, it seems like stunt casting: Peter Dinklage, the 4'5" tall actor best known for the film The Station Agent, plays the title role in Shakespeare's Richard III. Since the villainous character is described within the play as a misshapen hunchback, having a dwarf in the part seems an inspired choice. (Dinklage has no hump, but that's not absolutely necessary.) Many actors playing Richard expend considerable effort in indicating the character's deformity; Dinklage, on the other hand, simply needs to stand on stage to achieve the effect and can therefore concentrate on bringing other qualities to bear upon the role.

Chief among these attributes is charm. Dinklage's Richard is a smooth talker; he has an elegant yet personable demeanor and a silken voice that makes it easy to see why so many characters within the play are fooled by him. When others insult him, calling him names like "hedgehog," he appears unruffled. There's no need for him to wear his emotions on his sleeve when the appearance of graciousness may win him much more and inspire sympathy from the other characters and the audience. Even when this Richard suggests that someone be beheaded, it's done with a casual, charming smile that belies the horror of his request.

Unfortunately, while Dinklage makes a strong and charismatic Richard, the rest of the cast is wildly uneven. Ty Burrell as the Duke of Buckingham, who assists Richard in his rise to power, is one of the stronger supporting players. He successfully weds his words to his character's emotional state and is particularly effective in Buckingham's softly spoken final speech. Another strong presence is Isa Thomas as the mad Queen Margaret, widow to Henry VI. As she issues her curses against those who have supplanted her, the effect is chilling; Thomas's command of the stage is so absolute, it seems plausible that everyone else in the scene stands idly by while she makes her pronouncements. Harry Barandes, in the fairly minor role of Sir William Catesby, aquits himself quite well, as do the two murderers (David Don Miller and Matthew Maher) who end the life of Richard's brother, the Duke of Clarence (Ron Cephas Jones).

The rest of the cast ranges from serviceable to quite terrible. As Lady Anne, Kali Rocha is the worst offender, appearing to fake every single emotion. The pivotal scene in which Richard woos her to be his bride almost doesn't work because the actress is so unconvincing in her grief and, therefore, equally unconvincing in her change from hatred of Richard to a kind of piteous love. Mercedes Herrero plays Queen Elizabeth, wife to Richard's brother Edward IV (Tom Nelis), in a manner more appropriate to a TV sit-com than a Shakespearean tragedy; and Roberta Maxwell as the Duchess of York, mother to Richard III, is overly melodramatic.

As directed by Peter DuBois, the production is often quite stylish, and DuBois is well served by a fantastic design team. Riccardo Hernández's set is dominated by red curtains and carpets, as well as decaying walls; the effect nicely suggests the blood and destruction at the heart of the play. Scott Zielinski's lighting is moody and atmospheric. For example, in one scene, Dinklage's Richard stands close to the front of the stage while a floor light throws an enormous shadow of him onto the back wall. Marina Draghici's costumes are terrific, while Scott Myers's original music and sound design give the production a cinematic feel that underscores the dramatic action. But, rightly, it's Dinklage who is at the heart of this production and whose performance will be remembered long after other aspects of the show are forgotten.

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