Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Richard II

Also see Susan's review of Sweeney Todd

Michael Hayden with Jason Marr and Louis Lotorto
The lifeblood of Washington, DC, is politics, and few playwrights had as much to say about political gamesmanship as William Shakespeare. Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company is taking the opportunity to bring these interests together with a "Leadership Repertory" at Sidney Harman Hall encompassing two of the Bard's royal sagas: Richard II is first, to be followed by Henry V.

Richard II has much that is good, starting with Michael Hayden's performance as a king who comes to understand that divine right is not the only criterion for governance. But this is a wordy play—this production runs three and a quarter hours—and director Michael Kahn has interpolated scenes from another, unfinished play to set up the dramatic situation.

First, a bit of context. Richard was the grandson of the previous king, Edward III; the crown went to him at age 10 rather than to one of his uncles, the sons of the king, because his father had been the oldest son and heir apparent but died before he could serve. Now Richard is an adult who rules heedlessly, obliquely calling for the murder of his opponents and seizing money from nobles and commoners alike. (The added opening scenes make clear that Richard isn't isolated from his duties by sycophantic courtiers; he's playing the game until he can't do it anymore.)

Richard is smug and secure enough in his privilege that he ignores the challenge to his reign posed by Henry Bolingbroke (Charles Borland), his first cousin and son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (Philip Goodwin). Only when he loses his outward power can he understand what he was doing wrong.

Kahn keeps things chugging along, but most of the intense drama comes in the first act. The second act drags as it concentrates on minutiae—the royal garden, factionalism among warriors—rather than the larger picture.

He has the benefit of a strong company of actors: Hayden as a vain, careless king who feels no need to empathize with others; Goodwin as the impassioned John of Gaunt and a philosophical gardener; Floyd King, setting aside his comedic skills for a deliberative portrayal of the tragic Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester; and Borland ably presenting the charisma that brought supporters to Bolingbroke. Naomi Jacobson sparkles in her small role as the Duchess of York.

Lee Savage's scenic design brings the audience into the ruins of a medieval castle, all rough stone walls and heavy wooden doors.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Richard II
February 2nd —April 10th, in repertory with Henry V
By William Shakespeare, with additional material from Thomas of Woodstock, an anonymous Elizabethan play sometimes attributed to Shakespeare
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and uncle to Richard: Philip Goodwin
Duke of York, uncle to Richard: Ted van Griethuysen
Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and uncle to Richard: Floyd King
King Richard II: Michael Hayden
Bagot, councilor to Richard: Louis Lotorto
Bushy, councilor to Richard: Jason Marr
Green, councilor to Richard: Scott Whitehurst
Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk: Darren Matthias
Duchess of Gloucester: Robynn Rodriguez
Cheney, servant to the Duke of Gloucester: Larry Paulsen
Gloucester's Servant: Patrick Vaill
Duke of Aumerle, son to the Duke of York: Tom Story
Lord Ross: Stephen Paul Johnson
Lord Willoughby: Dan Kremer
Earl of Northumberland: Derrick Lee Weeden
Queen Isabel, wife to Richard: Rachael Holmes
Ladies attending on the Queen: Robynn Rodriguez, Sarah Mollo-Christensen, Meredith Burns
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford and son to John of Gaunt: Charles Borland
York's Servant: David Joseph Regelmann
Henry Percy, son to the Earl of Northumberland: DeVon Jackson
Salisbury: John Lescault
Welsh Captain: Conrad Feininger
Sir Stephen Scroop: Darren Matthias
Bishop of Carlisle: Floyd King
Gardener: Philip Goodwin
Gardener's Men: Larry Paulsen, Todd Quick
Abbot of Westminster: Conrad Feininger
Duchess of York: Naomi Jacobson
Groom: Larry Paulsen
Keeper: Conrad Feininger
First Murderer: Charlie Francis Murphy
Ensemble: Joseph Ibanez, Sun King Davis, William LeDent, Adam Navarro
Directed by Michael Kahn
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman