Richard III

Richard III is a great play, dominated by one of William Shakespeare’s most notorious villains. It opens with a famous speech that begins, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and it contains dozens of other famous lines, including, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” The role of Richard—the cruel, calculating hunchback who murders his way to the throne—has been sought by actors for generations.Richard III also is one of those plays that you’d usually have to leave Sacramento and go to a festival or to San Francisco to see. Alas, professional productions of any of Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories are rarer than hens’ teeth in these parts. But on Tuesday, April 6, the Mondavi Center will host a touring production of Richard III, staged by The Acting Company, a New York-based group founded 32 years ago by the late John Houseman.

It’s a somewhat economical production of Richard III, with 13 actors playing 23 roles. Director Eve Shapiro (of the Juilliard School) takes a comparatively sympathetic view of Richard—if he’s a monster, he becomes one partly because that’s what medieval England seems to expect, given his malformed body. Several critics have remarked that leading man Spencer Aste is not as unremittingly sinister as some who’ve done the title role. When the show toured in Colorado in mid-March, The Denver Post described Aste as “gleefully petulant” in several scenes.

This 100-city tour is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, which seeks to sponsor professionally mounted Shakespearean tragedies in communities (like ours) where they’re not typically offered.