Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Richard III

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 11, 2022

Ali Stroker and Danai Gurira
Photo by Joan Marcus
After a promisingly bombastic few moments at the start, the Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's Richard III at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, sinks into a lengthy, halting narrative that occupies most of the first half before regrouping and finally coming into focus after intermission. Only then is Danai Gurira in the title role able to break free of Robert O'Hara's altogether puzzling direction to give us all she's got with a venomous portrayal of the dangerously blood-thirsty paranoid throne-usurping monarch.

There is no question that O'Hara has proven himself to be a masterful satirist, both as a playwright (Bootycandy and (Barbecue) and as a director (Slave Play). Who better, you'd think, to find the darkly satirical side of a play about a ruthless psychopath who murders his way to the top?

Well, I guess you can't win them all. Because there is precious little of that element to be found in what is a choppy production in which it seems the actors have been given little guidance in how best to bring Richard III to life. The result is an inconsistent mix of Shakespeare and modern cadences that fails to help the audience to see the play as a full-bodied classic or as a satire with contemporary touches. By trying to be both, it is neither.

Except for some brief moments, such as the thrilling portrayal by Sharon Washington of the straight-shooting, curse-hurling Queen Margaret, there is little to make you sit up and take notice. For many on stage, Shakespeare's poetic language is ignored or simply out of reach. This includes Ali Stroker, best known for her Broadway performances in Spring Awakening and Oklahoma!, who brings an (intentionally?) comic touch to her role as Anne, daughter-in-law of King Henry VI and widow of Henry's only son and heir Edward, both of whom have been murdered by the upwardly mobile Richard. That same Richard then woos and wins Anne to be his own wife before he murders her as well. Oh, what a beautiful morning, indeed!

This production is one of the few in which Richard is not harnessed with physical deformity, despite the specific language in the play that would suggest otherwise. That's all well and good, I suppose, if we are meant to think of Richard's defect as a mental rather than a physical one. But then what, if anything, are we to make of the fact that among the cast members is an actor with cerebral palsy, one with a rare form of dwarfism, one who is in a wheelchair, and another who is deaf and who signs her lines? Is this some sort of oblique reference to Richard's deformity, or is it just a random coincidence of casting? Oh well, at least Myung Hee Cho's geometric set design, suggestive of castles and cathedrals, and Dede Ayite's luxurious period costumes give us something to look at and enjoy.

In a moment of musing, I wondered what Richard III might look like in the hands of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the creators of the musical Six. It was with great success that they took on the story of the wives of Henry VIII, two of whom he had beheaded. Imagine what they might do with the story of Richard and his dozen victims. They could call it Twelve!

Richard III
Through July 17, 2022
Delacorte Theater
81 Central Park West, New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: