Friday, June 13, 2014
The Life and Death of Richard II at Arden Shakespeare GildFor some people, the moment they hear the word "Shakespeare," they just tune out. I don't know if it's because of a bad required school-reading experience, but the fact is Shakespeare is still read and performed today for a reason. If you have a tough time reading Shakespeare, don't let that stop you from seeing any his shows performed live. They were meant to be heard, not read. If you have the right actors, it shouldn't matter that some of the language is tough to understand. If the actors are doing their job correctly, you know exactly what's going on.
Luckily, the cast of The Life and Death of Richard II at the Arden Shakespeare Gild is doing their job right. Richard II is not a play that you see performed often, but recently PBS produced a series of Shakespeare's histories that they called The Hollow Crown, a name they borrowed a line in The Life and Death of Richard II. It may not be as widely produced as, say, A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is arguably one of the most important histories that Shakespeare wrote. Richard II sets up the long battle for the crown between House York and House Lancaster, also known as the War of the Roses.
Arden Shakespeare Gild wants to make this show as easy as possible for their audiences to understand. If you don't know English history that well, and you're not exactly sure how everyone is related, Arden Shakespeare Gild's program includes a handy family tree that explains all of the relationships. It also includes a short explanation as to what is happening in each scene.
One of the important things to know about Richard II is that he inherited the throne when he was 10 years old. Greg Faber's King Richard is a lot of what you'd expect from someone who was king from such a young age, a bit entitled, kind of whiny, and extremely self involved. I only wish Faber was easier to hear; there were times when his voice was lost against such boisterous personalities as David Hasting's Henry Bolingbroke and Dan Tucker's various characters.
Even though the title of the play is The Life and Death of Richard II, it is really Henry Bolingbroke's story. I could listen to David Hastings read Shakespeare for hours. He was born to play roles like Henry Bolingbroke. There are so many great actors who are in this production, and they are the ones who truly help us as audience members understand exactly what's going on. While the play is in verse, it shouldn't sound like an hours-long poem. At the end of the day, it's dialogue—and for the most part, the cast of Richard II doesn't get caught up in the poetry of Shakespeare. There are a few moments that sounded like someone reciting poetry, rather than acting, but those are very few and far between.
Aside from David Hastings, the actors who really stand out in this production are Dan Tucker (John of Gaunt and Bishop of Carlisle), Lee Jordan (Thomas Mowbray and Lord Ross), Melissa Kearney (the Queen), and Jim Ewald (Northumberland). You may notice that some of these actors have multiple roles, and that's not unusual for one of the history plays. There are just so many characters, but the costumes definitely help distinguish that this is certainly a different character. And the actors who are playing multiple roles do their part in truly having distinct characters, especially Dan Tucker.
Overall, The Life and Death of Richard II is something that is worth watching. Whether you are a Shakespeare buff or a newbie, Arden Shakespeare Gild is a great way to experience this show. The history plays can be confusing, since there is so much going on. Luckily, you won't find that problem here. The Life and Death of Richard II plays at the Arden Shakespeare Gild until June 28. They do perform outdoors, so pack a seat cushion and some bug spray. If there is bad weather, the show will move indoors. For tickets and information, visit http://www.ardenshakespearegild.org/summershow.htm.
Posted at 11:00am on June 13, 2014 by Gina Poletti
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