Saturday, September 21, 2013

Richard III—Northwest Classical Theatre—Shoebox Theatre—SE Portland

Family Feuds
Shakespeare’s historical tragedy, Richard III is being presented at the Shoebox Theatre space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., by the Northwest Classical Theatre Company.  It is directed by Barry Kyle and will be performed through October 13th.  For more information go to their site at

“What little family doesn’t have their ups and downs.”  A line from A Lion In Winter (this company’s next show in December) but it seems appropriate in summarizing the theme of this play, both in reality and tone.  A play that is normally a vicious drama is now, still vicious, but often a dark (very dark) comedy.  No, it’s not played for laughs, but it is often said that comedy and tragedy are both on the same coin, just reverse sides from each other.

This concept works as this oily, paranoid, mis-shapened (more in soul than body) son of York, Richard (Grant Turner), a few layers removed from the Crown, succeeds in scaling his way over relatives’ bodies to become King of England.  His first order of business is to marry Lady Anne (Brenan Dwyer), to increase his status.  (A trifling matter that he killed both her father and her husband.)  The current King, Edward (Jason Maniccia) is on his death bed and Richard’s other direct rival, Clarence (Tom Walton) must also be removed, so is drown in a vat of wine.  And, after that, smothering a couple of little cousins (also rivals) is child’s play.

But the fun is not yet over.  It seems his closest friends, Hastings (Pat Patton) and Buckingham (John San Nicolas), are beginning to develop scruples, and so, must be eliminated, too.  And, to add insult to injury, he needs to rid himself of his wife and marry Edward’s wife’s, Elizabeth’s (Melissa Whitney) daughter (Tiffany Groben), just a girl, to cement his position further.  Finally, it dawns on the couple remaining allies he has left, that they best switch sides, or face the chopping block themselves, and aid Richmond (Steve Vanderzee) in his bid for the throne.  Was ever a man so misdirected or a populace so misguided.

Richard, himself, is portrayed as a man that is clever, devious but also a charmer when he has to be, a true political animal.  Turner plays him as a tormented, haunted man, feeling that he must act in accordance with his physical ugliness.  But the physical mold is slight in comparison to his ugly soul.  In appearance, he is rather handsome, and his deformities more of the mind than body.  Grant is exceptional in his layered performance and, when peeled away, like an onion, is really just a spoiled child underneath.  Only during scoldings from his mother (Susan Nelle) do we see the true, frightened, pitiful boy.  A remarkable performance!

This is done in modern dress (mostly black clothing) on an essentially bare stage, with a cast playing multiple roles.  And it is never boring.  The macabre interplays between Buckingham and Richard with the children gives one goosebumps.  And the scenes between Richard wooing Lady Anne and then Elizabeth are truly despicable.  The way Richard manipulates his friends, then, like a cornered predator, attacks without mercy.  It is an evening alive with excitement, as you marvel at the twists and turns of the plot.

All the cast is outstanding but some that are spot on are Paige Jones as Margaret, giving us a character that appears mad but might but the sanest of them all.  She is wonderful.  Whitney and Dwyer are both exceptional as the women deceived by Richard’s weaving of webs that capture his flies.  And Patton, as an old friend who finds he has a conscience after all, is noble and sad in his portrayal, especially when he is at death’s door.  Nicolas is likewise effective, as he is deceived, and in a bid for freedom, also loses his head.  A calm and deliberate performance.  As is Walton, as he explains his disturbing dream before drowning.  Both powerful in their underplaying of these characters.

Kyle, a guest artist from England, has directed this show in a conversational style of speaking, wherein you understand the text, as well as being able to appreciate the beauty of it.  He has also done an exceptional job is using such a small space to great advantage, always keeping the action moving but, also, well aware that the audience must understand what’s going on.  A supreme achievement!

I do recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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