Saturday, March 18, 2006

Richard II

My mother has a policy of never seeing a show on the last night of its run so that if she wants to see it again, she has the opportunity. I was reminded what a good idea it is after seeing Milwaukee Shakespeare’s Richard II with only two more chances for a repeat visit.

Megan had heard a rumor that this show wasn’t good and it plodded through its nearly three-hour runtime. We were agreeing on escape plans during the drive into Milwaukee in case we couldn’t stomach another act. But I’m happy to report that not only was the show good, it was some of the best work I’ve seen at Milwaukee Shakespeare.

Michael Gotch as Richard II was amazing. His mastery of the character and his honesty, subtlety, and clarity left no doubt that Richard was king. If only Matt Daniels as Henry Bolingbroke were as strong.

I have to admit that I wasn’t very familiar with Richard II going in. I knew the basic history that the play deals with, but I don’t think I’ve ever read Richard II. The play deals with the fall of Richard II and the rise of his successor to the throne, Henry Bolingbroke who reigns as Henry IV—historically, the first chapter in England’s War of the Roses. It’s written in such a way that neither side is the “good guy.” In fact, the question of the right to the throne is like an apples and oranges argument. Richard rules by divine right but Henry has the support of the people.

It seems to me that in performance, Richard and Henry should be equal in character and balanced in their strengths, leaving the audience to pity and praise each in their turn. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here. In fact, Daniels’ (Henry) performance was one of the weakest in the entire cast. When paired with Gotch’s magnanimous Richard, there was no contest.

There were several outstanding performances in addition to Gotch. Joe Foust, who I loved as Casca in Julius Caesar, played Thomas Mowbray and also acted circles around Daniels. James Tasse, who played Caesar, was John of Gaunt and was quite good. We were happy to see Eddie Collins as Aumerle and even happier with his solid performance. It was good to see Bill Clifford as the Bishop of Carlisle as well. Ross Lehman was outstanding as the Duke of York, and we were impressed by John Gleason Teske, a high school junior and former student of Megan’s, as Harry Percy.

The set design was relatively simple. Black with gold trim and sliding silver flats, and washes of red, blue and purple light in the background. Joshua Horvath’s sound design was once again fantastic and accented the character-driven performance, as did Marcus Doshi’s lighting design. Kudos to costume designer Camille Assaf for the 14th century costumes, especially Richard’s. Full marks to director Alec Wild for an amazing production.

Richard II is the first in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of history plays, which continues with Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2, and Henry V. Milwaukee Shakespeare will be performing all four plays in a series they call “Rebel & King” spanning four seasons and culminating in the 2008-2009 season. If the next three seasons can keep up the quality set by Richard II, we have some great theatre to look forward to.

http://www.milwaukeeshakespeare.com/richardII

1 Comments:

Anonymous Richard Nopelski II said...

I am really upset that you thought taht a bipic of my life would be very boring. The Nopelski family might not be as adventurous as that fake space film, but it sure is exciting for me.

4:33 PM  

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