April 24, 2019

Theatre Intime is Presenting Shakespeare’s “Richard III”; Production Evokes Period Setting, Features Strong Performances

RICHARD III: Performances are underway for “Richard III.” Presented by Theatre Intime and directed by Naomi Park ‘21, the play runs through April 27 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Richard III (Paige Allen, left) persuades Lady Anne (Miranda Allegar, right) to marry him, despite the fact that he has murdered her first husband: Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. (Photo by Naomi Park ’21)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Theatre Intime, whose cast and production team consist of Princeton University students, is presenting Shakespeare’s Richard III. Director Naomi Park has opted out of drawing overt parallels to political events outside of those that occur in the play; this sleek production evokes the 15th century without being constrained by it.

The play is a fictionalized depiction of the bloody rise to the throne, and downfall, of King Richard III of England (1452-1485), the former Duke of Gloucester. It is believed to have been written in the early 1590s; the New Cambridge edition of 1999 conjectures that the play was written in 1593, with the premiere possibly having taken place in 1594. It was published in the first Quarto in 1597, and was included in the First Folio (Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies) in 1623.

“I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days,” Richard confides to the audience at the beginning of the show. To gain the crown, Richard schemes to pit his brother, King Edward IV, against his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, by having the latter arrested on a trumped-up charge of treason, and murdered while imprisoned in the Tower of London. This places Richard in a position to serve as regent until Edward’s son (and namesake) is old enough to be crowned.

Richard then courts Lady Anne, the widow of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. Despite her initial revulsion, Anne is taken in by his words, and agrees to marry him.

Subsequently Richard ensures that the lords who are loyal to Edward—including Hastings and Rivers—are imprisoned and killed. With the help of the Duke of Buckingham, Richard asserts that Edward’s children are illegitimate, after which Buckingham publicly offers Richard the throne.

Richard is crowned, but after becoming king he is increasingly paranoid, with good reason; Buckingham betrays him and leads a rebellion. Eventually Richard’s own mother, the Duchess of York, turns against him and declares that he is a tyrant.

After Anne mysteriously and conveniently dies, Richard plans to marry Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Elizabeth pretends to consent but has betrothed her daughter to the Earl of Richmond, who is leading an army from France to go to war against Richard. Before the final battle, Richard dreams of being haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered, who tell him to “despair and die!” 

The plot is intricate, and audience members who are unfamiliar with the play are encouraged to consult one of the numerous online resources (including Bardweb.net or Wikipedia) for a synopsis. However, Park helps us avoid missing the forest for the trees, as the production clearly conveys Richard’s progression from ambitious schemer to paranoid king. Even the placement of the intermission aids in this, as the second half opens with Richard’s ascension to the throne.

Park has chosen a gender-blind approach to casting. This, of course, is consistent with the play’s performance history. In Shakespeare’s time it was illegal for women to act, so the female roles were performed by boys or men. The trend toward reversing this—casting female actors in the role of male characters—dates at least as far back as 1899, when Sarah Bernhardt portrayed Hamlet. More recently the Donmar Warehouse presented an all-female production of Julius Caesar in 2012, and Glenda Jackson’s performance as King Lear is the talk of Broadway.

In this Richard III the gender-blind casting yields some talented performances. Throughout the cast there could be a bit more attention paid to projection, but the delivery of lines is impassioned and convincing.

Paige Allen is outstanding as the Machiavellian title character, capturing Richard’s duplicity, and his evolution. In the first half Allen infuses Richard’s monologues with malicious glee, letting the character revel in his misdeeds. Richard’s interactions with other characters are entertainingly belligerent.

In the second half, when Richard is king and becomes increasingly paranoid, Allen’s performance is correspondingly edgier. Her delivery of the monologue following the scene in which Richard dreams of being haunted by his victims (“O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”) successfully conveys the character’s rare, but crucial, moment of self-reflection.

Ruth Schultz gives a strong performance too, as the Earl of Richmond. Her delivery of the play’s concluding monologue is nuanced, and is somewhat reminiscent of Allen’s tone at the beginning. The portrayal suggests that although Richmond is being cast as a hero who defeats a wrongdoer, he likely is capable of imitating Richard’s villainous behavior.

Natalia Orlovsky also shines, in her portrayal of Margaret, the widow of Henry VI. She particularly commands the audience’s attention in her delivery of the monologue containing the line “Thyself a queen for me that was a queen!” Equally strong performances are given by Miranda Allegar as Lady Anne; Katie Bushman as Queen Elizabeth (the spouse of Edward IV); and Juliana Pulsinelli as the Duchess of York.

The cast is capably rounded out by Juan Lopez as King Edward IV; Nora Aguiar as Prince Edward; Eliana Cohen-Orth as Buckingham; Sakura Price as Clarence; Musab Almajnouni as Tyrell; Jack Busche as Hastings; Ashley Berland as Rivers; Isaac Martinez as York; and K. Stiefel as Catesby.

Park’s vision for the production is articulated by Ricky Feig’s effective set. A castle wall turns to reveal the interior of the Tower of London, an apt metaphor for the uncovering of the numerous machinations that transpire at court. The choice of colors is economical; a mostly-black set is punctuated by a bright-red throne and curtain.

The striking costumes by TJ Smith also use this palette. Almost all of the clothes are black and white; an exception is a dark red gown for Margaret, which matches her rage. Richard’s outfit is partially covered by black leather, hinting at armor.

Park’s staging gives the battle sequence its power by making full use of the available space, as the performers move from the stage into the aisles, drawing the audience into the action. The climactic duel between Richard and Richmond is well staged by fight choreographer Minjae Kim.

Kim, who is also the production’s sound designer, has mixed some striking incidental music from a variety of sources, notably J.S. Bach, consisting chiefly of brooding strings punctuated by ominous drums and bells. Kim’s sound design, and the lighting by Regan McCall, are integral to the eeriness of the scene in which Richard dreams of being haunted by the ghosts of his victims.

Richard is “determined to prove a villain,” and so he does, albeit one who offers us a brief glimpse of his conscience before he meets his end. Theatre Intime’s Richard III successfully depicts the immoral protagonist’s journey from a tyrant who rises to power by destroying the lives of those around him, to one who is destroyed.

Richard III will play at the Hamilton Murray Theater in Murray Dodge Hall, Princeton University, through April 27. For tickets, show times, and further information call (609) 258-5155 or visit theatreintime.org.