By William Shakespeare
Directed by Robert Currier
For tickets / schedule :
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: September 5-27, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(September 5, 2015)

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Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Aidan O’Reilly) reveals to Anne, widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster (Livia Demarchi) that he murdered her husband, then challenges Anne to become his wife. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Richard III proves that well-written propaganda can become a form of art. Shakespeare plays loose and fast with history, vilifying Richard to glorify the union of Lancaster and York, which founded the Tudor dynasty. He was not the only one to create lore around that marriage; the white rose and red were also introduced post-war. While York did have a white rose among their many badges, the red rose was not a prevalent symbol of Lancaster, it was introduced in the late 15th century, possibly by the court poet, Stephen Hawes. Marin Shakespeare’s attention to badges detail is to be commended; Richard appears with his famous boar symbol, which was so popular in the time period that his retainers wore it as a hat-badge, similar to Margaret of Anjou’s pearl swans.

Shakespeare gives himself license to create a “plain-dealing villain”, who oozes his way across the stage, egging on strife, murdering innocents, and culminating in a powerful scene with Queen Elizabeth (Elena Wright) seeking to woo her daughter by force. Aidan O’Reilly’s performance as Richard finds the perfect balance between believable malice and a touch of humor, which renders the character compelling and deliciously enjoyable. Despite the violent subject matter, director Robert Currier has added a light touch to the play, augmenting the comedy of murder scenes, and adding brilliant transitions with Richard’s secret service guards, complete with shades and earpieces.

Abra Berman’s costume design is unique, bridging the Medieval setting of the play with modern times. The male characters strut about in crisp suits or military uniforms, while the women lilt in flowing gowns from the mid 14th century. It creates a visual feast, grounding the play in two centuries simultaneously. Richard’s followers are presented as a police state, similar to Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011), emphasizing the king’s military strength.

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After killing her two sons, Richard III (Aidan O’Reilly) insists that Queen Elizabeth (Elena Wright) arrange for him to marry her daughter. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

The Battle of Bosworth fight choreography is in slow motion, giving it a cinematic feel that I enjoyed. Shakespeare does not worry about presenting the actual tactics, other than mentioning the marshlands in passing, and the fact Richard’s forces were more formidable. He did bring up Stanley’s men, who lay to the upper flank, undecided as to which side they would favor until ultimately betraying their king. Most historians agree that the fatal error of Richard was going personally to attack with the cavalry to cut off Henry’s access to Stanley. This created the cry of the play “my kingdom for a horse” when Richard found himself on foot in the midst of a cavalry battle. From examining the bones recently uncovered, it appears he lost his helm as well, sustaining multiple blows to the skull. Fight Director Richard Pallaziol opted for an exciting theatrical depiction of Richard’s death, rather than an accurate one, which raised many a cheer from the audience at such a wicked character’s demise.

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Following a night of ghostly visits by those slain in Richard’s quest for power, Richard III (Aidan O’Reilly) and Lancastrian heir, Richmond (Jackson Currier) meet in battle. Photo by Lori A. Cheung

Robert Currier’s direction brought out the stunning poetry of the play in timing and emphasis. I was struck by the Anglo-Saxon influences. “Where is thy husband now? Where be thy brothers? Where are thy children? Wherein dost thou, joy?” (Act IV Scene 4) is similar to The Wanderer’s style “Where is the horse? Where is the rider? Where is the giver of treasure? Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the revels in the hall?”

Marin Shakespeare’s Richard III features a stellar cast, engaging production and beautiful poetry. I would highly recommend it as an entertaining evening of villainy, corruption and the triumph of virtue, with more deaths than a season of Game of Thrones. Whether you support the red rose or the white, Forest Meadows is the place to be for fabulous theatre.