The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0421 Tuesday, 9 May 2006
From: Jim Blackie <
Date: Monday, 8 May 2006 12:46:17 -0400
Subject: 17.0412 A really powerful Richard II
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0412 A really powerful Richard II
>If you live anywhere near DC or Virginia, allow me to recommend seeing
>_Richard II_ performed by the Washington Shakespeare Theatre Group
>located at Clark Street Playhouse in Arlington, Va. Memorable
>performances by Christopher Henley as RII and Brian Hemmingsen as
>Bolingbroke. I believe it's playing through May 14th:
Well, degustibus non est disputandem.
This play probably should be seen, not because it captures the essence of
the play perfectly, but the reverse. Rather like Richard, gazing into the
mirror in some hope of recognition, only to fling it away and fracturing
the glass, left only with a crazed reflection of what is real, so are we
are similarly left with this production.
Scene 2 opens the production, with the revelation of Richard's possible
implication in the murder of his uncle, Gloucester by a very gaunt Gaunt
and the grieved Duchess/widow - Gloucester's body seems wrapped in plastic
behind them. Like Law and Order, it sets the scene with the body and gives
the rationale for the action that follows. But it starts the play NOT
focusing on R2. That's the problem.
This problem is compounded when the accusation scene (I i) and the duel
scene (I iii) are no longer separated by I ii. So the future duel is now
immediate. The revelation that not only the exile remedy, but the length
of Bolingbroke's exile was suggested by his father, Gaunt is baffling,
now. Just WHEN was Gaunt supposed to have done this? There is no longer
any opportunity for the consultation, as there was in the original order
The inference that Bushy, Bagot and Green were (to paraphrase) 'a little
less than kin but more than kind' regarding the king, is supported by
Bolingbroke's accusation of Bushy and Green in Act III that:
"You have in manner with your sinful hours
Made a divorce betwixt his queen and him,
Broke the possession of a royal bed
And stain'd the beauty of a fair queen's cheeks
With tears drawn from her eyes by your foul wrongs."
We infer they'd been messing about with one another. In the current
production we have one of the three (I think it was Bushy, but I'm not
sure) have a quick moment alone with the Queen for a hug and a buttock
squeeze, just to keep the thing hetero-. But this invention puts the
spotlight on the Queen, makes her the one dallying, when Richard is the
true (I believe) focus of this examination. Leasing away the kingdom to
allow his to live "the good life" and for purchasing gifts for his
The gravest of "errors" in this production is, in my opinion, the Richard
never declines in greatness or his opinion of himself. Surrounded by
"leather boys" straight out of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, this thin,
vain, haughty, sarcastic, screechy Richard never veers for long from
himself. The rare moment in III ii when R's will to continue flags, it
takes but a word to encourage him and he's back. There is no real moment
when he really seeks for the man behind the King he plays. Even in the
mirror scene he does not discover or question himself, only to test his
powers and to taunt Bolingbroke. To the end he is shrill and demanding,
not accepting at all of his small cell, but astonished that this has
happened to HIM. He never grows, never becomes anything but a cardboard
cutout of a bad ruler.
Second gravest mis-step for me is the obliteration of the chivalry, the
courtly honor and process that kept Richard where he was. Only tradition
and acceptance of a stable society allowed kings. What we are given in its
stead is a post-apocalyptic nightmare land with pasty faced, lipsticked
"nobles" in wardrobe remaindered from "A Clockwork Orange." Pool cues for
lances, daggers/knives for swords, ladders for stairs and steps for
thrones. Richard is a malnourished weakling motorcycle leader without the
motorcycles, but with the gang and the Queen/Biker-Chick to accompany him.
None of these taunting, posing toughs have a bit of honor or thought
behind the edifice, no compassion even from the Queen who, bra-clad
throughout the play, hops on the back of Gaunt's wheelchair as he moans
and scoots him out of sight to die. Her sudden compassion in the garden
scene looks all the more bizarre, for it's the only scene in which she is
not mocking, laughing, teasing or flirting her way across the stage. This
sudden change doesn't show growth, but it shows a depth not seen
elsewhere, therefore baffling.
Leaving the play, one would view Richard as a preening, ego-centric little
weasel more like the Dauphin in H5 than himself; Bolingbroke a loud
bullying gang lord finally satisfied upon resting power from R2; York
seemed wise and thoughtful, fair and lawful, though upon my reading he was
nothing if not an ill-considered, vacillating stand-in for authority with
no familial obligations greater than his role as patriot.
I came away thinking it was awful. Perhaps not. It perhaps is an
interpretation of R2 seen through the kaleidoscope glasses of the 21st
Century. It made me angry and it made me think through my objections.
There were some very good actors and some not. It's worth your time only
if you bother to know the play first. Otherwise you may never care to.
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