Off Broadway Reviews
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!