You can’t get creepier or more intentionally evil than James Newcomb’s Richard III. In the audience you sit in your comfortable chair, secure inside the upper-class white-bread theater, and still shiver when his dangerous glance comes your way.
It’s a pity that this play is well known. Its famousness makes it sound good for you, and if you’re really know your plays you’ll also know it’s a Shakespeare history. Wow! A double whammy predicting an evening of lecturing and academic enrichment. Yet, if any young hoodlum in training or time-pressed politician decides to skip this production, they must reconsider. There’s no greater role model for asocial meanness than this play’s title character. Your mother would not approve of the story. And, truly and honestly, you don’t really need to know the background of the people on the stage and what parts they played in the (yawn!) history of England. You just need to meet Richard, listen to what he says, and, ah, “appreciate” what he does.
The real-life Richard’s life was colored by a physical deformity which plagued him from birth. Newcomb’s Richard is convincingly crippled, but nevertheless awesomely life threatening. Richard cannot walk on his own; he requires two braces to hobble. Yet, he hobbles fluidly, energetically, and with menace. He gives great anger to his deformity, to those who are normal, and to everything affirming in life. His metal arm legs make him a venomous spider and not at all a brittle pensioner. He is an expert with those crutches, and he wields them lethally and with alarming skill.
His cynical “trust me” sincerity is world class mockery. Even when he has told the audience of his plans to deceive, Newcomb’s winsome smile make you hope that he’s reconsidered his schemed treachery and now means what he says.
Newcomb appears to own every moment of show, which, of course, is itself a tribute to the excellence of the company. Robin Goodrin Nordli stands out as a hectoring Queen Margaret who sets the tone and leads us in and out of the story. She’s spooky, ethereal, and eminently vengeful. Queen Elizabeth played by Susanne Irving is equally on target as the sister-in-law of Richard. Her transition from current Queen to a deposed one, mother of the two young princely murder victims of Richard, is chillingly crushing.
But, virtually the whole cast, including the child actors and non-Equity spear carriers deserve thanks for their performance. A very few clinkers, including a weirdly scowling guardman and a wooden Sandy McCallum as Brakenbury, are minor notes.
When Richard was finally slain the audience was eager to leap to its feet. The cheering (yes, cheering by this reserved cultured Ashland crowd) could have been just for the actors. But, at least some of the joy was for the lifting of that too convincing heavy mood of doom.
Ozdachs rating: ***** out of *****