“I am determined to prove myself a villain,” Richard III tells us at the top of Shakespeare’s drama that bears his name, justifying his choice as having been “roughly stamped,” “not molded for sporting tricks,” and “deceived.” . characteristic by disguising nature.” Even the dogs bark right where they belong, he says, channeling all this resentment into a talent for murder, killing at least nine people in traffic one night on stage, including two small children, before finally meeting his own end. violent at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Most of Richard’s murders take place offstage, but the deaths are visceral in incoming artistic director Edward Hall’s new production of “Richard III” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater: a stylized affair (the princes are puppets) but still grayish, in a style more typically associated with Jacobean tragedy, Grand Guignol or the television show “Dexter.”
This striking and brave production starring Katy Sullivan, a Broadway actress, Paralympic sprinter, and double amputee, and its main argument is that Richard’s attack follows a familiar game plan in modern American politics, treating governance as a zero-sum game and ruthlessly exploiting the decorum of opposition and compliance with the rules, which weaknesses are seen. It is not necessary to spell out the name of the most prominent modern practitioner. The tactic insists that what is true and fair is just someone else’s narrative, folks, and the end result is political confusion. Exploitable political confusion.
This is certainly a legitimate approximation of “Richard III,” an emblematic play of the so-called Tudor myth, in which Shakespeare, who knew which side his bread was buttered in Queen Elizabeth’s England, destroyed the Yorkist Dicky and It strengthened the moral authority of the Tudors, whose right to the English throne was, when you really look at it, quite dubious. The play is the supertext for the notion that history is written by the winners, especially since Richard’s real body was discovered in the English city of Leicester in 2012, ignominiously covered by a parking lot.
That is the strength of the show, epitomized by Sullivan’s vigorous verbosity and high-energy performance, a contemporary interpretation of the text very much in the tradition of this particular theater. Sullivan, needless to say, is not a traditional Richard, but his work is intoxicating because of his commitment to the present tense and because of the way he uses his particular physical assets. At first, his Richard speaks to us without his prosthetic; As the play progresses, he puts on the legs necessary for palace leadership, and when Richard finally reaches a battlefield where a horse is worth a kingdom, he puts on swords to run. It’s a powerful physical trajectory, to say the least, and it’s the core of Hall’s approach to the play, accompanied here by a capable supporting cast that includes the likes of Scott Aiello, Erik Hellman and Dedo Balogun (as Ratcliffe).
But there are some disconnects here too. While Michal Pavelka’s scenic and costume design is clever and adapts well to the ambient amplification of carnage and chainsaws, including even those hanging plastic objects beloved at meat markets, the show employs a masked chorus that performs many of the deadly acts. I think Hall intended this creepy team to reflect Richard’s inner life, but they seem more like his external subordinates because they are agents of the plot and aren’t emotionally connected enough to Richard. We don’t really understand much of Richard’s doubts, even though Shakespeare constantly included them in the play. The quietest moments are few.
Sullivan finally makes you aware of Richard’s concerns in the chapter “O cowardly conscience, how you grieve me!” monologue, but by then it’s Act 5, Scene 3 and the bodies have piled up. The show is a little afraid of the notion of Richard as a seducer (or, if you prefer, seductress), even though this play has the most difficult scene to stage in all of Shakespeare, which is Richard’s rapid courtship of Lady Anne (Jaeda LaVonne). ) even though she killed or helped kill her husband, her father, and her father-in-law. LaVonne grabs you for a quick second with Anne’s confused angst, but the scene doesn’t play out like it should, and then the show seems to abandon this particular explanation for Richard’s effectiveness.
Richard marrying Anne can’t just be a convenient choice (she doesn’t enhance his claim to the throne), so why is there this crazy scene here? It is certainly worth noting that Richard has a personal and sensual charm. I think these artists could have gone much further with all that, here and elsewhere, and would have only enhanced Hall’s central narrative.
Whatever he’s doing with “Richard III,” and this show is doing a lot worth watching and listening to, his misleading opening statement about being “determined to prove himself a villain” has to have a powerful counterpoint, so that Don’t become a psychopathic, melodramatic villain who flattens the dramatic tension even when the actions get thick, fast, and bloody.
That can’t just be through the avenging Earl of Richmond (the well-played Demetrios Troy) or Queen Margaret (an uncompromising Libya Pugh) or anyone else, but it must crystallize as the doubts that creep inside the head he carries. the crown. The body, and our reaction to otherness, is certainly at the center of this deceptively complicated work, and thanks to a series of cleverly nihilistic and deeply disturbing traditional music arrangements by Jon Trenchard that punctuate this show, we imbibe the atrophy of the body politic. .
I just wish the show had more hesitations and doubts. We could all use a little more of that right now.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Richard III” (3 stars)
When: until March 3
Where: Courtyard Theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave.
Duration: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Tickets: $38-$97 at 312-595-5600 and www.chicagoshakes.com