“A horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse!” an actor utters in front of an audience. This is possibly the fifth time I’ve seen this line being said to an audience that I was part of. I’ve seen around that many iterations of the Duke of Gloucester’s rise into kinghood, catch him being both devilish in some and boorish in others. As somebody that studied good old Shakes for years, I’ve also seen my fair share of scenes containing that line or other scenes from this play. Yet, I will always remember Sunday afternoon as the first time I saw an actor say that with the emotions it needed. I knew way before the line was expressed that I was watching a unique and exhilarating take on the seminal work, but this is what confirmed it. The Bridge Group’s production of “Richard III” was one of the best off-Broadway Shakespeare productions I’ve seen of this play. At the very least, it’s the one that will be remembered the most for getting the tone right and matching it with incredible technical prowess.
The story is one known by many, the play in which the villain is the main character. The one where the deformed stain in the Royal family decides to stop playing second fiddle and takes over the place of the king. As we are privy to his plans, we join the fun. That is, until the fun becomes uncomfortable and we realize we are watching the story of a psychopath unleashed. That’s what this production does better than many before, it’s his monstrosity that gets highlighted, not by words, but in actions. In a very un-Shakespearen way, we’re shown the murders he and his cohorts commit. We are presented with what we are rooting for, and it hits us harder. The murder of his nephews to the sound of Tear for Fears is both a beautifully artistic choice and one that causes discomfort. This is the feeling this play should try to achieve. As we go deeper into his mind and he starts losing it we start seeing the ramifications of the decisions of a brain consumed by hate and paranoia. Suddenly, laughing at his jokes is not as appealing, but the performance is.
There’s nothing better in a play than when the person playing the main character is up to the task, and Max Hunter makes his presence known. Charming and dangerous, his eyes tell the story of thousands of hours that went into his plans. The story of the hatred for his kin and the anger that his disability has provided him throughout life. He’s joined by Jacob Owens, whose comfortability with the language made his performance seem a slight more confident than Hunter’s. Feeding from each other, their early scenes together are a delight. Other standouts are Christina Toth, who manages to steal every scene she was in and Robin Abramson as the mother in pain and disbelief. The rest of the ensemble fluctuated from great acting to language impeding, but never distracted from the story itself.
Hunter, who also directed this version, transports us to a world that can only be described as slick and sexy. Here, we are thrown in their world of storytelling which includes using movement, music, dance and theatrical magic to make us forget this is a theater. The transitions were as enjoyable as the scenes, the projections didn’t take away power from the script, and the blocking of the actors was like watching a good ballet. In other words, they nailed the technical aspects of this new version. What we get is a production with costumes that alter these people, music so well curated that it matches our feelings, and a lighting design that is as prominent as the performers. This is literally what happens when tech and creative work in harmony and we get a nice tune out of it.
The Bridge Group’s production of “Richard III” sadly just finished it’s run this past weekend. There’s not many Shakespeare productions that can get me this thrilled to recommend nowadays, but I can only say if you are a Shakespeare fan, don’t miss it if it comes back. If you love great technical aspects in your shows, don’t miss it. If you love well done ensembles, don’t miss it. You know what? Just don’t miss it.
Out of 4 stars:
Twisted Talk: Have you seen “Richard III” before? What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? Discuss below!