Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Helvetica
Of course, the mafia analogy works especially well if the humans in question just happen to have the (formerly) royal name of Plantagenet, and if their story is being told by William Shakespeare, to please the (succeeding) royal house of Windsor, back around 1592. But let's face it, the Plantagenets didn't come off very well in 1966's The Lion In Winter either.
Fair or not, this Richard III is so appealing because its anti-hero is terrifically ingratiating and wicked, by turns. We meet him just as he's about to tap the first domino in a chain that will lead him to the throne. And that immediacy in storytelling is part of the fun, as dialog and action work together in perfect harmony.
For contrast, look at the script for Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and you'll see that the first three acts are all "set-ups," for payoffs that won't come until after the usual intermission. In this play, clearly and intelligently directed by Suki Peters, every calculation leads to an almost instant (but evil) gratification. There is consistent drive, and there are regular payoffs, including a surprisingly effective battle at the end.
A quartet of outstanding actresses each rue the day they met him: Jennifer Theby-Quinn is Lady Anne, every bit as smart as Mr. Barron in fast-moving events but careless in her curses; Michelle Hand is the newly widowed queen, teetering on the edge of power but just as steely as he; Margeau Steinau is his mother, always able to tailor her outrage into something stylish and understated; and Jeanitta Perkins is a bitter, deposed queen whose words bring can down castles.
John Foughty is Buckingham, Richard's number one henchman, but we also get the real tension of his doubts as the body count rises; Joseph Cella is Hastingshere a subversively humorous figure, a harmless apparatchik with a foolhardy trust. And longtime local actor Tim Callahan responds beautifully to director Peters' sense of realism and depth. Brian Rolf is a wonderfully dangerous Catesby, and the naturally intense Chuck Winning puts the edge on every scene he's in, as Brackenbury and the disturbingly ill King Edward IV.
Alex Bollini and Riley James are adorable as the little princes, and Brennan Eller is terrifically effective as the man who does them in; Maxwell Knocke is the woeful Clarence and later a sort of Greek Orthodox-looking mayor of London. And to cap it all off, Erik Kuhn (also the fight choreographer) is the sunny Richmond, the Windsor who puts a stop to this whole Plantagenet nightmare in the end.
Great costumes, very nice set, and it all comes in at two hours and thirty minutes, which seems like a perfect investment of our time. Mr. Barron has also nicely updated the physicality of the character to reflect the recent skeletal evidence unearthed in England, which allows for some very good work when one of the young princes wants a piggyback ride.
Through April 17, 2016, at the Ivory Theatre. For more information visit www.stlshakespeare.org.