Shakespeare in the Park: “Richard III”
Shakespeare’s Richard III was not his most endearing character. He was a hunchback with a limp, machinated wildly to achieve the throne, and killed more than a few family members along the way. However, it remains a role so juicy it was sought after by actors as different as Basil Rathbone, Al Pacino, and Peter Dinklage.
So what can we say about Danai Gurira, a Black woman who plays the knave in the current Shakespeare in the Park production? All good things.
Nefarious, cunning, and appropriately blood-thirsty, she also has a dignity that may remind you of Katharine Hepburn in one of her gender-bending roles (e.g., “Sylvia Scarlett”). You almost forget this attractive actress is supposed to be such a monster. Happily, she does not descend into caricature like Al Pacino often did in the 1979 Broadway production.
Danai is well complemented by the lithe Daniel J. Watts, who plays her swinish second-in-command Lord Ratcliffe. Broadway babies will remember him as the original Ike Turner in “Tina” for which he won a Tony nomination. Sanjit De Silva as the oily Lord Buckingham is also a standout.
In fact, New York theatergoers will recognize a slew of bold-faced names in R3. These include Ali Stoker, the physically challenged actor who played Ado Annie in the 2019 St Ann’s Warehouse production of Oklahoma. In Public Theatre tradition, the cast is nothing if not inclusive, featuring hearing-challenged actors who sign their parts, along with a dwarf, and an actor with MS (Gregg Mozgala from “Teenage Dick”). The latter plays Henry VII, the initiator of the Tudor regime.
There are also comic touches, which you would expect from director/playwright Robert O’Hara, the genius behind the Public’s hilarious “Barbecue” a few years back.The scene where Richard holds a Bible in his hand while surrounded by clerics (a la Donald Trump in Lafayette Park) draws knowing giggles from the audience.
This handsome production does not have the froth of previous SITP productions, so do not come expecting Puck or Bottom or sylvan romps. Pay greater attention to Shakespeare’s words in this production, else you won’t be able to distinguish Lord Stanley from Lord Hastings from the Prince of Wales.
You might also miss delivery of such famous lines as “My Kingdom for a horse.” I could reveal when that appears but I am not in the giving vein today.