Richard III and his monstrous machinations usually over shadow Richard II, Shakespeare’s only play written entirely in verse (even the gardener speaks in rhythm and rhyme.) A pendulum may be swinging, for the Royal Shakespeare Company recently staged a very strong version of Richard II that it sent out to movie houses around the world and now Seattle’s Shakespeare Company has put together a stellar production that does everything right.
Director Rosa Joshi, on the faculty of Seattle University and co-founder of upstart crow collective, has elicited outstanding performances from her entire cast. George Mount, the founding Artistic Director of Wooden O, assumes the role of King Richard. His work is engrossing throughout and often simply breathtaking. The play only features the last two years of Richard’s reign and he and his court are operating under dark shadows cast by the mysterious murder of his and Henry Bolingbroke’s uncle, The Duke of Gloucester. Mount captures the world-weary mien of a man who desperately clings to a position he is not even sure he wants anymore.
The stage has only one set piece: an imposing shell-white throne. Joshi has it move all over the performance space, and as the play develops, the throne seems to be more and more foreboding for the overwhelmed and betrayed Richard.
In Act II Richard explores what his life amounts to after giving up the crown. His poetic musings about who we really are once our role-playing is discarded have a startling modern, existential tone. Mount brilliantly portrays the anguish of the abandoned ex-king. The moments he has handling a broken mirror are particularly moving.
David Foubert makes his Seattle Shakespeare Company debut as Bolingbroke and skillfully plays out the character’s arc as he moves from exile to the most powerful man in England. Brenda Joyner, quickly becoming a Seattle stage favorite, does a great deal of thoughtful work with the small role of the queen who must watch her husband’s fall with “tears and smiles.”
Perhaps most impressive is Dan Kremer, a long time veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His portrayal of Bolingbroke’s proud father is one of the highlights of the show. Seattle Shakespeare has him slated to play King Lear this spring. I’ve already marked my calendar for that one!
The production qualities are top notch. Dominic CodyKramers has made some wonderful choices for the somber musical pieces and Geoff Korf’s lighting enables the single playing area to serve for the many scene changes the script demands.
This play has drawn some debate as to whether it should be classified as a history or tragedy. Richard’s heartbreaking moments of tragic recognition could easily tip the scales toward seeing this as the latter, though it is considered the first part of Shakespeare’s history play tetralogy along with the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V. No matter what genre it belongs to, it makes for great theater in the Seattle Center.
The Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Richard II plays through February 2 at the Seattle Center. Scenic design by Carol Wolfe Clay; costume design by Jocelyn Fowler; the fight choreographer is Gordon Carpenter. Ticket information at www.seattleshakespeare.org.