The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2152  Wednesday, 22 November 2000.

From:           Jimmy Jung <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 2000 19:17:52 -0500
Subject:        DC Richard II

Professor Cook mentions the rush of Shakespearean productions going on
in Washington, DC.  This short note is on Richard II.  I suspect it is
the most "traditional" of the productions, but the text is still tweaked
some with the inclusion of a prelude from Thomas of Woodstock.  I
suppose this was intended to give us some background on Norfolk's and
Richard's guilt in the death of Gloucester, but instead happened so fast
and in such a darkened space, that it served only as a bit of confusion.

It all takes place in a lavish set placed in the 1930's and, I'm told
included several visual references to Edward VIII and the rest of his
royal kin.  But aside from being impressed by the opulence of the set
and costumes, this choice did little for me and in fact distracted to
some degree.  Richard, played by Wallace Acton, spends much of the first
act in full dress military regalia, including a large hat that
overshadows his relatively short stature  It gives him the look of a
cartoon dictator.  It is an impression compounded by a flippant delivery
of several lines; there is laughter as he offhand announces the seizure
of Hereford's plates and movables.  Certainly Richard may not entirely
deserve our sympathy in the first act, but he at least ought to be taken
seriously.  I've seen Mr. Acton play several diminutive, but scary and
very serious kings (Richard III and Ceasar in A&C come to mind); so this
lean toward the comic comes as a surprise.  He delivers a much more
powerful Richard once he stripped of his crown and a good bit of his
attitude.  Perhaps this was the intention, but it didn't work for me and
diluted all of the cool poetry of his first act speeches.

A second question of humor in the play was introduced in an after show
discussion by David Sabin, who plays York.  Both Mr Sabin, and Ted van
Griethuysen as Lancaster, do a spectacular job as the two brothers
watching the decline of their country at the hands of their nephew and
their confusion at negotiating the complexities of loyalty under the
circumstances.  Mr Sabin is also able to step up into the riotous
aspects of advocating the execution of his son after discovering his
revolt and indeed, the scene is a riot.  What took me by surprise was
his suggestion that he was unaware that it was a comic scene, and only
after a failed attempt to play it straight did they decide to go for the

Like almost all of the productions of The Shakespeare Theater at The
Landsburg, it is a very solid production.  The cast is a little uneven,
but mostly strong.  Being the third production of Richard III since the
theater opened in 86, it has moved to most favored play status, but I
still had a hard time thinking of Richard as the poet king, while
laughing at him.

I didn't report on their earlier production of Timon, worthwhile simply
as a rare opportunity to see the play.  Like Richard, it had a very cool
set, but the play was a little overwhelmed by its production values (in
this case setting it in the 80's) and reached its strength once it was
reduced down to a few key individuals on stage.  The Shakespeare Theater
has been enormously successful, expanding its schedule and allowing
directors to do some amazing things with the stage (they made it rain
(with real water) a few years ago).  I love the place, I just hope that
their expanded capabilities aren't overwhelming the plays.


Has anyone ever seen the Aumerle Pardon scene played straight? Has the
addition of the Thomas of Woodstock  pieces become standard?

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