Theater Review: Dividing and Conquering by Lying and Stirring Base Emotions in Richard III | Arts

Theater Review: Dividing and Conquering by Lying and Stirring Base Emotions in Richard III


Maxine Eloi as Lady Anne and Seth Blum as Richard III - PHOTO BY G. TODD BUKER
  • photo by G. Todd Buker
  • Maxine Eloi as Lady Anne and Seth Blum as Richard III

Richard III

Through Nov. 20
Bare Theatre @ Sonorous Road Theatre, Raleigh

Seth Blum’s disarmingly matter-of-fact—and absolutely lethal—take on Richard, the implacable Duke of Gloucester, was one of the most vivid performances in a late-summer production of Henry VI: The War of the Roses. His patient explanations of Richard’s psychopathic plans to achieve the crown by pruning the royal family trees suggested a character from House of Cards, a “fifteenth-century Frank Underwood, minus the charming Southern accent,” as we noted at the time.

So we were enthused to learn Bare Theatre let director Lucinda Danner Gainey continue pursuing that character through the endgame of Shakespeare’s Henriad in Richard III. Wisely, Gainey sticks with the acting adage “Let the words do the work,” as Blum’s Richard strikes confidential, avuncular, and mischievous notes in his ongoing admissions to the audience. Despite occasional line snags on opening night, we were still eating out of his villainous hands.

Richard charms and seduces his way through a well-cast royal house. Maxine Eloi’s demure Lady Anne is the first to be overcome, before Maggie Lea’s standout performance as a crisp and chilly Queen Elizabeth. The dramatic thermostat dips even further when Rebecca Blum reprises her role from late summer as Margaret, former queen and now the widow of Henry VI. After her rough, unwelcomed character—unhinged by her husband and son’s loss—silences bickering royals with some uncomfortable fact-checking, Margaret unleashes one of the coldest and most exacting curses found in Shakespeare. Kacey Reynolds Schedler adds extra ice as the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother, who now detests him.

Gainey mines rewarding comedy in several scenes. Laura Cormier Parker’s captivating clown work leavens Aneisha Montague’s more serious take when their two murderers kill the hapless Duke of Clarence (an over-the-top Matt Lyles). Later, Benjamin Apple’s roguish Buckingham and Chloe Apple’s alert, alarming Catesby wrestle some goons into religious garb to stage-manage a ridiculous photo op where Richard convinces the Mayor of London (Sean Malone) of his supposed piety.

Although Heather Strickland’s skimpy fight scenes pale next to Henry VI’s battles royale, Noelle Barnard Azarelo impresses as Richmond, Richard’s nemesis. And the play’s crystalline subtext proved a refreshing change from the iambic trance encountered in other productions, when un-debriefed actors don’t know what they’re saying. But the show’s compelling centerpiece remains Blum’s urbane leader, a man adept at dividing and conquering his constituency by lying and stirring their basest emotions.

Wait. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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