Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Mike Lew has moved the story from medieval England to a contemporary high school, where Richard Gloucester (Gregg Mozgala, for whom the role was written) has cerebral palsy and has been bullied and mistreated by his classmates for his entire life. As his junior year ends, he has decided to unseat the junior class president, Eddie Ivy (Louis Reyes McWilliams), a jock who has never needed to learn anything to be student body royalty, for the senior class president title.
Richard is the only member of his English class to understand Machiavelli's principles of influencing a population, and he soon demonstrates his skill in manipulation and persuasion. (He also expounds on his life and plans in mock-Shakespearean soliloquies, to the audience but also to his annoyed and confused classmates.) His immediate targets are trusting teacher Elizabeth York (Emily Townley) and classmates Barbara "Buck" Buckingham (Shannon DeVido, a wheelchair user), Clarissa Duke (Portland Thomas), and Anne Margaret (Zurin Villanueva), a lithe dancer and Eddie's ex-girlfriend.
Mozgala is magnetic even as Richard alienates people he wants to win over; Villanueva, a talented dancer, also gets opportunities to speak for herself that, as she notes, her Shakespearean counterpart never has; and Townley, a Woolly Mammoth company member, is hilarious as a teacher who keeps forgiving Richard because he's such a good student.
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel has been connected with the play since its premiere in New York City, and his staging demonstrates a seamless rapport with his actors and other members of the production staff, especially Jennifer Weber's moments of choreography, Wilson Chin's ingenious set, Kelsey Hunt's character-defining costumes, and Robb Hunter's fight choreography.
Teenage Dick runs through October 17, 2021, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net.
By Mike Lew