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Richard III
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Suki Peters
St. Louis Shakespeare
April 8, 2016

Charlie Barron Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespeare

Charlie Barron
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

Richard III, as told by William Shakespeare, may or may not be particularly accurate from a historical point of view. It’s clear whose side the Bard was on in the epic battle between the Houses of Lancaster and York, but what matters in drama is the how the story is told and how the characters portray that story. In St. Louis Shakespeare’s superbly cast new staging of the classic history play, raw ambition is at the forefront as Richard schemes his way to the throne.

Richard (Charlie Barron) begins the play as the Duke of Gloucester. In a series of asides to the audience that seem something like “talking head” interviews from a TV show, the unscrupulous Duke hatches and executes his plan to become King of England, starting with having his brother, George, Duke of Clarence (Maxwell Knocke) imprisoned and later killed. He wheedles his way into marriage with the (very) recently widowed Anne Neville (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) in order to secure an alliance with her family. Through the course of play Richard connives and manipulates, running afoul of the current queen, Elizabeth (Michelle Hand), the former queen, Margaret (Jeanitta Perkins), and even his own mother, the Duchess of York (Margeau Steinau). He enlists an array of henchmen and “advisors”, but his trust in them varies. Chief among these allies is the conflicted Duke of Buckingham (John Foughty), who is increasingly uneasy with Richard’s plans. Eventually ascending the throne, Richard is eventually led to war with his chief rival, the nobly depicted Henry, the Earl of Richmond (Erik Kuhn).

Regardless of historical quibbles and whose side the viewer may be on in this legendary clash, Shakespeare’s Richard is painted as a clear villain. Usually portrayed with a contorted body and a decided stoop, Richard here is portrayed by Baron as more upright in the posture department, but still as gleefully villainous. Walking with a limp is about the extent of the physical limitations of Barron’s Richard, although he brings a sharp physicality to the role, and a wily, conniving, viciously forceful manner. He holds the viewer’s attention with ease, and his scenes with Theby-Quinn’s defiantly reluctant¬†Anne, Hand’s harried Elizabeth, Perkins’s confrontational Margaret, and Foughty’s principled, conflicted Buckingham are intensely charged. Other standouts include Chuck Winning in a dual role as King Edward IV and another of Richard’s allies, Sir Robert Brackenbury. There’s also a particularly menacing turn by Brennan Eller as hired assassin Sir James Tyrell. Erik Kuhn plays a reluctant assassin with sympathy, although his turn as the heroic Richmond is slightly less convincing. For the most part, though, this is an extremely strong cast, with too many strong performances to name.

It’s a well-staged production, with a multi-level set by Jason Townes that appropriately evokes the era. JC Krajicek’s costumes are colorful and detailed, and Steve Miller’s lighting sets the mood well. There’s also some impressive staging particularly in the battle scenes, bringing the Battle of Bosworth Field to the stage in a convincing, personal way.

St. Louis Shakespeare has brought a lot of humanity to this production. It’s easy to see Richard III, as portrayed by Shakespeare, as a monster, and while he’s clearly a villain, here he’s a decidedly three-dimensional villain. The people whose lives he manipulates, challenges and destroys are portrayed in vivid detail as well, particularly the women. It’s a fast-moving, never boring staging of this classic portrayal of of King’s ambitious, brutal ascent to the throne and his inevitable downfall. This Richard III¬†at its most approachable, and most powerful.

Charlie Barron, cast Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Shakespeare

Charlie Barron, cast
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Richard III at the Ivory Theatre until April 17, 2016.

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