Richard III returns to the Hilberry this Thursday and Friday. John Monaghan of the Free Press printed the following review on December 2. The original article may be found by clicking here.
FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER
The Hilberry Theatre production of Richard III does everything a good reading of the Shakespeare staple should. It’s chilling. It’s funny. And best of all, the nearly 3-hour show never drags, thanks to an engaging cast and inventive staging.
As soon as Edmund Alyn Jones enters the stage as Richard, delivering his famous “Winter of our discontent” soliloquy, the show picks up steam. The speech introduces the themes of ambition, jealousy and deception as the title character orchestrates the murder of friends and family members who stand between him and the English throne in the mid-1400s.
The play, which blends the best elements of Shakespeare-style history and tragedy, also has notes of humor, helped by Jones’s mischievous lead performance as the hunchbacked man who would be king.
He depicts Richard’s physical deformities with consistency and pathos, sporting a blood red ribbon on his gimpy leg to remind us (and maybe the actor) of Richard’s disability.
We share the boldness and glee with which he manipulates people, urging the freshly widowed Anne (Carollette Phillips) to marry him — her husband’s murderer — even before the corpse is cold.
Machiavellian manipulation fuels Richard throughout the play as he gets a fickle public to practically beg him to ascend the throne. White-masked actors, holding more masks like puppets, cleverly depict the mob on stage.
The bold move to cast a first-year actor from the Hilberry’s graduate theater program in such an important role pays off. Jones captures Richard with complexity and a great sense of fun, causing you to root for him and hiss at him in the same breath.
In the spirit of Shakespearean gender bending, women in the company play some of the male supporting roles. Vanessa Sawson, killed early on, returns in the climactic battle scenes as armies form against the tyrannous Richard, with well-choreographed sword fights erupting on stage.
This “Richard” is helmed by Chicago-based director Alison C. Vesely, who opts for a mostly traditional staging with period costumes and delivery. The key for her is a clear understanding of the character-heavy text, with director and cast making sure that no line gets tossed away.
One part of Vesely’s concept requires actors to remain seated at the back of the stage, even when they’re not part of a scene. The idea is distracting at first, though it does move the performers more fluidly in and out of scenes.
More successful is Jacee Rohlck’s regal set design, which employs tall cathedral windows where the shadowy figures of Richard’s many victims haunt him late in the play. One by one they curse the killer in yellow fire light before the hue shifts to blue and each blesses his usurper, Richmond (Andrew Papa).
In 30 years of attending shows at the Hilberry, I have seen the good, the bad and the awful in terms of Shakespeare productions. This one is definitely in the upper tier: wickedly entertaining and, like so many of Richard’s enemies, well executed.
Contact freelance writer JOHN MONAGHAN at email@example.com