The Tragedy of King Richard the Third
Matthew Arbour directs a prestigious cast in this outstanding production, headed by the unstoppable Andrew Borba as Richard. Mr. Arbour fills the stage with action perfectly suited to the text, and Mr. Borba is frighteningly believable as he claws his way to the throne, leaving a trail of shocked, condemned victims in his wake. So, while the gem-like cameos shine very brightly, they never overshadow. You can always feel the heavy numbness of this Richard's left foot, but you never quite get used to his astonishing duplicity. Festival-goers who stayed on their blankets and lawn chairs for the full two hours and forty-five minutes were amply rewarded with a rich, thrilling seduction scene between Mr. Borba and the beautiful, indomitable Lise Bruneau as Elizabeth - and an unusually fine battle scene where he finally runs into Richmond (the readily inspiring Jim Butz).
Working backwards, for the moment, since the last two acts prove the greatest: before the eye-catching sword fights, Mr. Borba's pensive soliloquy on his own evil contains two absolutely authentic selves - the clever, resourceful one we know quite well by now, and the quiet, questioning voice of his spirit that finally strips him bare, being the only man he cannot deceive. And finally, he begins to squirm, the night before battle.
Before all of that, before the intermission, the courtiers are full of honeyed elegance, and Gregory Wooddell makes for an excellent sidekick as a matinee-idol Buckingham, and very much the opposite of the scheming Richard. Among all the many unsuspecting royals, the most gripping performance comes from Gary Glasgow as Hastings: outwardly the most unprepossessing of followers, who somehow makes his horror of a reign of terror the most believable of all. Inevitably the dukes and earls each vanish like ten little Indians, and Richard continues his rise, till at last he sits on the throne with a very funny sigh of contentment.
The four queens in this deck should be more than a match for him, but he wears them down one by one with his slippery maneuvering. Nancy Lewis is the Duchess of York, seemingly immune to Richard's wretchedness, in a performance that vocally and physically breaks entirely new ground for her as a performer. Claudia Robinson as Margaret seems to hold all of the forces of nature in her hands as she warns the others in vain, and Magan Wiles (as Anne) is the youngest and most beautifully vulnerable. But it is Ms. Bruneau as Elizabeth, perfect and cool and unbelievably elegant, who fights him off the longest, with just as much style.
Cameron Davis and Raphe Makarewicz are the little princes, regally self-assured among the lords and ladies. Other standouts include John Flack as Stanley, Jerry Vogel as Clarence, and Rich Pisarkiewicz as Rivers. The costumes are full of pizzazz: dashing tunics that seem made from satin-trimmed dinner jackets, and princess gowns that actually look like they could be worn by a princess, in some alternate post-Edwardian reality. At 6:30, before the show, an original "green show" written by Christopher Limber cleverly acquaints kids with the story on a small satellite stage. After that, wander around the little Festival valley to enjoy the acrobatics of Juggling Jeff just uphill from the main stage, where he amazes audiences before the big show, and heralds actors hiking over a ridge to their positions, one by one.
Every night but Tuesday, through June 15 (2008), just south-east of the Art Museum in Forest Park. For more information call (314) 531-9800 or visit them online at www.sfstl.com/.
The House of York
The House of Lancaster
Followers of Richard
Green Show: Me & Richard 3
Director: Matthew Arbour
Production photos by J. David Levy
*Denotes member of Actors Equity Association
**Denotes member of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local #6