For a guy who's been dead for a few hundred years, it's been a big year for King Richard III. First his grave was re-discovered under a Leicester, England, parking lot and now Idaho Shakespeare Festival is bringing the Bard's version of Richard's blood-soaked tale to audiences in a thoughtful and nuanced production of King Richard III.
Taking the lead as the ruthlessly ambitious king, Lynn Robert Berg offers a powerful performance, stepping out of his typical character roles to show his versatility. Taking on one of Shakespeare's greatest villains is not for the faint of heart, but Berg's strong physical presence on stage is tempered by the ease with which he slips between ruthlessness and charm.
He's joined by a strong cast of supporting actors, including Sara M. Bruner as Queen Elizabeth, J. Todd Adams as Richard's brother George, Tom Ford as an ill-fated Lord Hastings and David Anthony Smith as Richard's greatest supporter and eventual victim, the Duke of Buckingham. With less than a week of rehearsal time, Eva Barnes--who stepped in for an injured Laurie Birmingham--is a standout as Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry IV whose prophetic curse and haunting presence saturate the production.
Set in modern day, the clean glass and steel set has the feel of the cold, corporate world. Rotating signs that dominate the center of the set--bearing the initials of whomever is ruling the kingdom at the time--are not only strong stagecraft, but a nice guidepost for audiences.
Admittedly, following the revolving cast of character in the War of the Roses is a bit like following the "Who's on First" joke. During opening night of the production, audience members were clinging to their programs like cheat sheets in an attempt to figure out who was who. Spoiler: Everyone is either related to someone Richard III has murdered or will be murdered by Richard themselves.
To say that King Richard III is bloody is an understatement--ISF must have gotten a bulk rate on fake blood between this production and Sweeney Todd. Dressed in a blood-stained white gown, Barns is a macabre presence as she totes a bucket of blood each time Richard has someone killed. This simple approach to dealing with the many executions, as well as the culminating battle scene, is not only effective but allows the language of the play to take the forefront.
Even audience members who are unfamiliar with the carefully interwoven tragedy are drawn into the downward spiral instigated by generations of greed and Richard's own boundless ambition. Credit must go to director Joseph Hanreddy, who has built a platform for strong performances and rich characters to shine.
King Richard III is one of the best Shakespearean productions ISF has staged in recent years and another sign pointing to the long-dead king's comeback.