Sunday, August 16, 2015

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Jon Mullich

By Joe Straw

Shakespeare’s Richard III was written for Sigourney Weaver, a strong woman, like the character Ripley in Alien, a woman who would take all comers, and would use her mind to her advantage at the most opportune moments. (Yes, I believe that is true.)

Certainly, the women in this particular play, are wise, and they are that way if only to competely handle the likes of Richard III.  

But, are they strong? Well, in this version, not as strong as one would like them to be.

Natasha Troop’s version of Richard III, with its grey tones and black somber mise en scéne, explores the play from a benevolent perspective without seeing the other side, her side.

Still, Troop’s version of Richard III is good, bordering on brilliant.  There’s no question about that. And it seems to fall in line with the bits and pieces I’ve seen over the years, including Mark Rylance’s performance at the Tony’s.

(Yes, I was waiting for that scene for a comparison.  That, I should not do. Forgive me. )  

All, in all, there were some marvelous performances in this production of Richard III and yet marvelous is too casual a term to use.  It is a production one doesn’t expect from a 99- seat theatre venue, especially for this type of play.  But, there it was, in all its glory, all three hours of it.   And despite the utmost gravity of this drama, the despicableness of the characters, there was a lot to smile about at the end of the production, a lot.  

Richard III is a play about his struggle for power.  The other characters know that about the Duke of Gloucester, and yet, few have the power to stop him.

But why don’t we see the grasp for power in this production, the alliances forged, the money, the greed, and the indelible impression of lust for power forged on the blade? Why?  

The Eclectic Company Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s Richard III, directed by Natasha Troop, produced by Natasha Troop and Marni Troop through August 30, 2015.  

The Play.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard, Duke of Gloucester practicing heliolatry much in the same way the ancient druids did at Stonehenge but changes a moment later to lament on his features and his ability in bed…

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Richard (Jon Mulich), Duke of Gloucester is not the King of England, now, but in order for this villain to reach his objective he must get rid of those in his way.  Simple enough.

Richard has matured into a powerful man, a military man, with wealth beyond his imagination.  His holding in Northern England make him very authoritative and it is his plan to move in the direction of the crown, but first he must get rid of Clarence (David Pinion), his older brother, who is second in line to the throne. 

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, deceptively lugubrious, bemoans as George, Duke of Clarence is being led off to cozy confines of the Tower of London under the orders of their brother King Edward IV.  King Edward had been mislead in believing that someone with “G” in their name would take over his crown.

“Meantime, this deep disgrace in brotherhood
Touches me deeper than you can image.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“I know it pleaseth neither of us well.” – Clarence

“Well, your imprisonment shall not be long;
I will deliver you, or else lie for you: 
Meantime, have patience.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

The first part of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s plan is set in motion; Richard knows that Clarence will never leave the Tower of London alive.

“Clarence still breathes; Edward still lives and reigns;
When they are gone, then must I count by gains.” – Duke of Gloucester

L - Rachel Kanouse and Jon Mullich

No sooner this has been said then King Henry VI, the former King of England from the House of Lancaster, mysteriously dies in the Tower of London.  (Or was murdered by Richard).  His body is accompanied by the beautiful Lady Anne (Rachel Kanouse) former daughter-in-law, now a mourner, who sees the devil that is Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She accuses him of having something to do with his death.  

“Say that I slew them not?” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Why, then they are not dead:
But dead they are, and, devilish slave, by thee.” – Anne

“I did not kill your husband.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

(This is a reference to Edward, Prince of Wales, son to King Henry VI, who was once the only surviving heir to the throne of the House of Lancaster.  But he was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, some years earlier 1471, commanded by none other than Richard, Duke of Gloucester.)

“Why, then he is alive.” – Anne

“Nay, he is dead; and slain by Edward’s hand.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester  

Cute and so it is that the House of Lancaster is finished, forever.  Richard, The Duke of Gloucester, in poor timing, uses this moment to woo Anne. And despite the animosity bantered about, Anne says yes, in her fashion.  

“Bid me farewell.” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

“Tis more than you deserve;
But since you teach me how to flatter you,
Imagine I have said farewell already.” – Anne

This scene presents some problems in that the presentation of King Henry VI’s corpse is brought on a stretcher as though he were a casualty on the battlefield rather than a King, and there is a slight confusion as to the identities of the players. The words tell us what is happening but the actions, and setting, convey a different meaning. A little symbolic pomp and circumstance to compliment the grey barren walls, and to present the former King with dignity, would do well here.

Also, Anne is finished.  The House of Lancaster is done.  So Anne, in her way, must maneuver her way into position to be Queen of England once again. And as much as she hates the idea of being with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, she accepts his love.  

One of the fascinating things about this scene is that Richard seems to be asking for some kind of forgiveness for the killing of Edward, her husband, at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  This shakes Anne to the core, a moment understood, between the two that may not have been totally realized on this night.  

In the meantime Queen Elizabeth is concerned about her husband dying, King Edward IV (Tim Polzin), knowing that her overly petulant son Edward V (Micah Watterson) is waiting to take the throne.

“The heavens have bless’d you with a goodly son,
To be your comforter when he is gone.” – Grey

“Oh, he is young, and his minority
Is put unto the trust of Richard Gloucester,
A man that loves not me, nor none or you.” – Queen Elizabeth

Queen Margaret (Janie Steele) suddenly appears as an unfathomable shadow, as someone who predicts the fall of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She is the prognosticator of future events. But Richard, seeing her as a dimming star, dismisses her like an overly worn codpiece, all in his quest to gain control.  This doesn’t sit too well with Queen Margaret.  

“Thou slewest my husband Henry in the Tower,
And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.” - Queen Margaret.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, cannot be bothered by trivialities in his quest to wrangle his position of power, and manages to dismiss her with the menacing brush of his cane.  

“We follow’d then our lord, our lawful king:
So should we you, if you should be our king.” – Rivers

“If I should be!  I had rather pedlar;
Far be it from my heart, the thought of it! – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Right now Richard, Duke of Gloucester is laughing on the inside.

Jon Mulich is Richard III in this production and does a marvelous job playing a man who has one thing on his mind, the crown. Mulich’s portrayal does not emphasize the physical deformities one reads about, but rather he has a slight limp and walks with the help of a cane. There is much to like about his lurid glares and shifty-eyed performance and the casual way he moves from one predicament to another. On the night I witnessed there were problems with lines (a few) but by the time you see it Mr. Mulich will have evened out his performance.  

L - Jesse Merlin and Jon Mullich

Jesse Merlin is incredible as Buckingham.  Merlin makes Shakespeare look easy with an astonishing voice and is a natural on stage.  Merlin is very meticulous and measured.  Certainly this is an amazing performance and one not to miss for actors and theatergoers alike.   

L - David Pinion, Gary Tremble, Christian T. Chan

Another remarkable performance is that of David Pinion as George Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV, and Richard III, and there’s the rub. Clarence is easily convinced to march to the Tower of London per the commands of the King who has ordered his death. Clarence is sure that Richard III will use persuasive powers to get him out and if that is not enough he has enough wit about him to find other ways out. The gullible Clarence, who in real life was just as lustful as Richard III, is not even a match in wit to secure the crown.

“O, he hath kept an evil diet long,
And overmuch consumed his royal person:” – Richard, Duke of Gloucester – speaking of King Edward IV

Tim Polzin, as King Edward IV is another wonderful performer who seems to create King Edward as a character who is in ailing health, because of the bottle and his diet.  As it is, the performance rings true, the slow gait of death, preceded by ordering acts of kindness to his fellow humans beings. There is not one false note in his performance.

Just a note here, this production was set circa 1930’s, and maybe it was of choice of the director, but the treatment of the King seemed very indolent, no bows, and with very little respect.  History says that Richard was a very big fan of King Edward IV but in this production Richard treated him like an ordinary Joe instead of his brother, the King.   

Micah Watterson does some excellent work as the petulant Prince Edward.  Watterson provides us with some very strong character work and has an extremely nice presence on stage. Still, in his minority, Prince Edward was led away to comforting rooms of the Tower of London, unable to fight off his despicable uncle and was never crowned.  

Jessica Neufeld is delightful as Queen Elizabeth who laments that her time is near and tries to find a way to hang on to the powers she possesses as long as her husband, King Edward IV is alive. And as long as she has powers she will try her best to rid herself of Richard, Duke of Gloucester forever.  This is a terrific performance.

Janie Steele is Queen Margaret.  Well, one would say former Queen from the House of Lancaster, widow of King Henry VI.  She was the mother of Edward of Westminster who was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury.  It is said that she ruled in place of her husband who had frequent bouts of insanity. Now, she has lost all, her son, her husband the King, and England.  Still Margaret moves in this play to present a curse, a device used by Shakespeare to tell us where this will all lead, and to some other end of which I am not entirely sure, and there is the rub. I suspect the only way to play this role is for the actor to get her power back by all means necessary.  Queen Margaret is still a queen and I’m wondering if there is a creative way to be stately, where the words, said in such a way, would sting and not come out as wickedly screeching insults.

“A husband and a son thou owest to me;
And thou a kingdom; all of you allegiance;
The sorrow that I have, by right is yours,
And all the pleasures you usurp are mine.” – Queen Margaret

Again, a note about the direction, we have Queen Margaret move onto the stage, she is dressed nicely, and a woman who appears to have power, once a queen, but no one treats her like a former queen, especially those on the side of the House of Lancaster.  As it appears on stage, she could be anyone in a nice dress. (In reality Queen Margaret was living in France at this time, in obscurity, and penniless.  Shakespeare uses her here as plot device.)

Rachel Kanouse does a nice turn as Lady Anne but there more to had with this relationship with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI and Edward all presented in this one scene. Defining the relationships and being clear on her objective would only add to an already fine performance.  Anne hates Richard so much she could kill him but finding a way to be the Queen would give the character a motive to stay in the scene and overcome her hatred. Lady Anne requires more strength to an already fine performance.

Gary Tremble shows a lot of promise as one of the murderers.  Tremble brings a lot of humor to that scene.  He also appears again as Ratcliffe.

Randi Tahara plays Duchess of York, the mother of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  She has her hands full with that one.  But, we never get a sense that she would treat her sons equally, or unequally for that matter.

Glenn Simon plays Brakenbury and others and is quite commanding on stage. He has a wonderful voice and is in the moment throughout.  

Also, Nate Werner shows a very nice range as Lord Rivers.  He provides a substantial characterization of Rivers and has a very nice voice.

Eliot Troop plays York and does a credible job for his tender young age.

Christian T. Chan plays Catesby.  He has a nice commanding presence on stage, with a lovely voice, and also provided the Fight Choreography.

Alon Dina shows promise as Dorset.

Melody Doyle played Hastings. In reality, Hastings was a procurer of fine women for King Edward IV but I did not see this in her portrayal but this may be something that would give her character a little something extra.

Laura Lee Bahr is the understudy for The Duchess of York, and Carissa Gipprich understudies Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth.  They did not perform the night I was there.

Wow, Natasha Troop the Director/Set & Lighting Designer had a lot on her plate for this show. One can only admire her tenacity for doing all of these things usually performed by three different people who are usually paid for their services. The set and lighting is very cold and hard, castle like, without the castle.  The actors in many cases make great use of the set with a guiding hand by Troop and that is the best part of the show, the actors who manage to capture living breathing idea of Richard III.  

Wendell C. Carmichael, Costume Designer, gives us a wonderful 1930’s look of her vision of the aristocracy for the time.

Other members of this wonderful crew are:

“MZ” Runyan – Stage Manager
Michael M. Miller – Videographer
Marni L.B. Troop – Photographer  

Run! Run! Run! And take someone who loves revisionist history.

Reservations:  818-508-3003

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  1. I saw this twice and was completely bowled over by the production and the high quality of the acting. John Mullich as Richard III was particularly good.

  2. Hi DaiBato, glad you liked it as much as I did.