Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sam Mendes's "Richard III"

Last night, at the BAM Harvey theater, Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes, played to a full house. The production was the last to be mounted as part of The Bridge Project, a British-American collaboration. I enjoyed the Project's King Lear last year, the eponymous hero played by Derek Jacobi, and so looked forward to the play about the infamous, hunchbacked king. 

Kevin Spacey, as Richard, was disappointing. His performance stayed on a single note, that of a growling menace, that did not have any shade or space in it. His seduction of Lady Anne was utterly unconvincing because there was no charisma or sex appeal in the portrayal. The humor when speaking lines that are not supposed to be humorous was broad, almost farcical. Richard was almost a cartoon character in Spacey's hands.

The other actors were not particularly memorable, except two. Chandler Williams played the Duke of Clarence with restrained dignity. The scene of his execution was poignant, the tragedy accented by the comedy of the bumbling murderers. I also enjoyed watching Haydn Gwynne play Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV. She was a survivor, hard and wily. In the end she outmaneuvered Richard by marrying her daughter to Richmond, future King Henry VII, first of the Tudor kings. 

The attempt to make Shakespeare our contemporary was heavy-handed. In the scene when Buckingham and the Lord Mayor of London begged Richard to become king, Spacey appeared, in a weird self-reflexive move for the film actor, on the projection screen. While Buckingham, played by the black actor Chuk Iwuji, rallied the crowd in a tone resembling that of a black preacher, Spacey refused the crown with the transparent dishonesty that recalled present-day two-faced politicians. We got the message, and then wished that we had gotten the message from the play by ourselves. 

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