Saturday, February 16, 2013

Richard III by William Shakespeare, Texas State University, February 12 - 16, 2013

Richard III William Shakespeare Texas State
Austin Live Theatre review

by Michael Meigs

Richard III is a portrait of a monster.  He's a killer, more forthright than Iago and without a shred of the scruples of Macbeth.  This is the protagonist who tells us he's going to court a grieving royal widow as she stands over her husband's body "though I kill'd her husband and her father," and achieves that impossibility. She agrees to marry him.

The immensity of this deformed soul's shamelessness is astounding.  Richard III was the portrait of a sociopath before the diagnosis was invented, the story of a demon in human form.  The single-mindedness of Richard's evil is grotesque, and if this story hadn't been presented in Shakespeare's verse, it would have been worth little more than the prancing devil of a provincial church pageant.

A further complication is that this 1592 play opens in medias res -- it's a direct continuation of Shakespeare's galumphing first three plays, Henry VI, parts one through three, in which the Yorks and the Lancasters fight it out.  A director may be tempted simply to assume all that background away, throwing his audience directly into the maw of this deformed and demented protagonist with his memorable opening line "Now is the winter of our discontent."  American audiences, especially university audiences, certainly can't tell a white rose from a red one.  It was all a long time ago and in England, and who cares, anyway?

 Richard III Texas State Universty

Director Chuck Ney's ingenious approach to establishing this dense plot line and making us care about it is to situate it an unspecified airport.  While waiting for the action to start, we hear the distant crossing whine of landing airliners.  When the lights come up, we find ourselves in a shabby security room with banks of old-fashioned television sets.  Eugene Lee has a remote control in hand, and after he settles his twisted figure into an office chair, pops a can of Heineken and hits the button, those TVs come alive.  We see brief videos in multiple images across all those televisions, recording the confrontation when Richard gunned down the Lancaster Prince of Wales, the ceremonial accession of Richard's brother Edward and the shrill denunciations of widowed Queen Margaret.  There's an equatorial third-world look to all of it, and many of the faces are those of people of color.

The texts of these videos are taken from the final scenes of the Henry VI plays.  By this point, before Richard first speaks directly to the audience, spectators understand that bloody business has been underway, the reigning king is no saint and the ousted queen is ferocious and bereaved.

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