Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In this retelling, Richard (Alex Mills) is a gallant soldier, killing the previous king and giving the crown to his brother Edward (Philip Fletcher), but his battle injuries are so severe that he can only survive with the help of robotic technology. (The surgery is undertaken by two humanoid creatures, Tyrell (Ana Tsikurishvili) and Ratcliffe (Scean Aaron), who become Richard's servants.) This action saves his life but fractures his humanity.
The idea is intriguing, but does it work theatrically? On a stage littered by twisted metal wreckage and periodically scrutinized with surveillance-like projections (both designed by Tennessee Dixon), this Richard tries on occasion to fit in with the people around him, but he can never overcome his isolation. This softens the character, making him at times "more sinned against than sinning" (to borrow a phrase from another of Shakespeare's plays). Mills is at his best when he's most physical, in a violent fury or ostentatiously framing someone else for a crime he committed.
The physical production is striking throughout: battles fought by soldiers whose guns shoot green and red laser beams through stage fog (lighting design by Brian S. Allard); the corpse of the previous king in a glass coffin; the vivid despair of Lady Anne (Maryam Najafzada), whom Richard is determined to marry; and the ultimate appearance of soldiers wearing black armor that makes them resemble insects (costume design by Erik Teague). The company's resident composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze, has created an eerie electronic score, which reverberates through Thomas Sowers' sound design.
Richard III is the 14th in Synetic's series of "Wordless Shakespeare" productions, although this one isn't completely wordless: pieces of the text can be heard in voice-over and seen on scrolling screens. The action, although simplified by Nathan Weinberger, is still complex enough to need that support.