Off Broadway Reviews
I doubt that the Pearl Theater Company had the slightest inkling of how timely their production of Shakespeare's Richard III would be in this current political season of our discontent. With the House of Bush battling the House of Gore, it's fun to watch the bloodthirsty Richard dissemble and scheme as he manages to kill off most of his relatives on the way to the throne. Our potential leaders are, at least, a little more civil. Their lawyers sue and re-sue each other in court, as the candidates proclaim that "it's the will of the people that counts." But deep down, wouldn't you love to see them settle their differences with a good old-fashioned sword fight? In the Pearl Theater's production, the play's famous duel, staged brilliantly by fight director Rick Sordelet, pits the evil Richard (Dan Daily) against the good, brave Richmond (Albert Jones). This exciting climax was the high point of an intelligently conceived, yet uneven night of Shakespeare.
Thankfully, Dan Daily, an experienced Shakespearean actor, makes a credible Richard. His performance is not a display of raw evil, but more of an intelligent dissection of villainy. You can sense Richard's enjoyment as he weaves his cruel web of deception on his way to usurping the throne of England. This version makes you wonder why the princes around him acted so foolishly. Is it their innocence and naivete that makes them fall so easily to Richard's cunning, or is it his brilliance?
To the credit of the supporting cast, most speeches were clear and understandable (which is not always the case in American Shakespeare productions), if a little pedestrian. Particularly interesting were David Toney's eloquent Clarence, Judith Robert's scenery chewing, but at least dramatic, Margaret and Jonathan Peck's thoughtful portrayal of the betraying and eventually betrayed Buckingham. Unfortunately, the very important role of the newly widowed Queen of Richard's brother Edward, played by Glyness Bell, was performed in a stiff and plodding manner. Her speeches were so slowly delivered that Stan and I estimated she alone added 10 to 15 minutes to the production's running time. This stated, Dan Daily's performance, though not gut wrenching is intellectually satisfying and eventually carries the evening.
Scenic designer, Beowoulf Boritt, did an excellent job with a set suggesting the war-like atmosphere of the times. Director Shepard Sobel had the difficult task of presenting a respectable production of Richard III using a cast with limited Shakespearean experience. For the most part, with the significant aide of Mr. Daily, he pulled it off.
As is customary at the Pearl Theater, this production does not tamper with the time, place or costuming of what is normally expected in a traditional presentation of Richard III. There is no motorcycle to replace the King's horse (no actual horse either), nor is Richard portrayed as a fascist dictator, as he was in a recent British production at BAM. This is an intelligently conceived and coherent, if somewhat unevenly acted, portrayal of one of the wickedest stage villains of all times. And, of course it's enlightening to remember how bad things can really get in politics.