Blue Room wins!
Visiting director brings in Tricky Dick for a winning production of Richard III
Around 1587, the audacious young Christopher Marlowe staged a play in London called Tamburlaine the Great. In it, he set the pattern of all the other plays he would write until his violent death in 1593. This pattern established a striving, or “overreaching,” central figure who would claw and push his way to the top of whatever realm he inhabited. Thus Tamburlaine, the play’s hero, set out and managed to conquer all central Asia—speaking magnificent poetry and killing thousands along the way. But what was most audacious was that Tamburlaine, this ostensibly “evil” man, was victorious, rather than defeated, at the play’s end. London’s moralists were outraged and attacked Marlowe as a degenerate “atheist.”
In 1587, young Will Shakespeare, 23, was also in London, beginning his career as play-doctor, actor, playwright and businessman. His earliest recorded dramatic writing included extensive work on three “history” plays dealing with the so-called Wars of the Roses, the difficult period during which the Lancastrian dukes to the northwest slugged it out with the Yorkist dukes to the northeast for the control of England. Figuring out the emotions and motives behind historical actions no doubt advanced Shakespeare’s acute sense of human psychology.
Shakespeare’s first truly independent play, Richard III, combined historical and Marlowe-like “overreacher” drama into one whole. Shakespeare, however, was more conservative than Marlowe. He followed Tudor custom and saw his Richard not only as evil, but also as the devil himself—created by the breaking of the royal line generations before with the murder of Richard II. Usurpation will eventually produce the devil, and when he is finally killed, the nation can be made whole again.
The Blue Room’s production of Richard III is excellent, a must-see. Set in Nixon-era America, it hangs on three central characters: Richard (the Nixon-resembling Joe Hilsee), the Duke of Buckingham (Jerry Miller), Richard’s chief stalking horse and tool, and the deposed Queen Margaret (Drenia Acosta), who, though her part is small, hangs heavy in the plot because she stands for the fate Richard strives to avoid. Under the guidance of visiting director David Davalos, all three were first-rate. Indeed, every word in Richard sounded clearly; and the pacing (crisp but not rushed), the cutting (intelligent) and the staging (with Richard frequently moving like a serpent around the base of the three-platform center stage on which his victims stood) were all superb—as were a number of the secondary actors.
I saw the same play at Ashland two nights later. It was more “theatrical,” but this added little. The much-celebrated James Newcomb had fun and physical verve, but he played Richard more as a kind of “comic presenter” than as a perversely sympathetic, if vicious, human. Michael Elich’s Buckingham was such a consummate Machiavellian that his later growing muddled seemed inconsistent.
Indeed, in terms of dramatic power and efficiency, acting and consistency of tone, the Blue Room crew wins hands-down.