Oracle’s “No Beast So Fierce” Review – Re-Read Shakespeare First

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Katherine Keberlein as Richard III.

 

In Shakespeare’s play of Richard III, the title character has a twisted spine physical deformity that is used as quasi-explanation for his power and blood lust.  “No Beast So Fierce” replaces that Richard III with a woman.  Oracle’s production, adapted and directed by Max Truax, goes even one step further by making this woman tall, blond, elegant and comely in the person of actress Katherine Keberlein.  The intent may be to make a statement about gender politics.   For some of us Margaret Thatcher made that point quite well with the Falklands War.  Perhaps it’s best to think about this switch as scoring a point for the disability rights movement.  Think about it—why should physical deformity suggest a tendency to evil?

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Mickey O’Sullivan as Buckingham

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Mike Steele as Rivers

 

The standout best aspects of this production jump out in the very beginning of the show.

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. The ensemble of NO BEAST SO FIERCE

 

First, there is the original score by Jonathan Guillen, which begins to set a tone of intrigue long before the curtain with bass-loaded repetitions akin to Philip Glass but with ample tonality. 

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. The ensemble of NO BEAST SO FIERCE

 

While the music, also with choral arrangements by Nicholas Tonozzi, like a cinematic score, is meant to cue in the action, it is so compelling that it would seem like a good idea for Oracle to present a musical recital of the piece in standalone mode.

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Katherine Keberlein as Richard III.

 

Also right from the start the cleverness of the set design by Joanna Iwanicka is there to see. 

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. (From L) John Arthur Lewis as King Edward, Erica Bittner as Queen Elizabeth, and Katherine Keberlein as Richard III

 

We are in a drawing room with one single chair for the King of the moment and various regal portraits on the wall, with one cleverly updated almost as a scorecard to help us keep track of whose reign has been toppled and who now rules. 

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. (From L) Jeremy Trager as Hastings and Mike Steele as River

 

The action begins with slow motion choreography that tells the backstory of prior kings and killings.  Excellently executed by the cast, this dance of sorts (Movement Director, Lyndsay Rose Kane), is a story in mime, and in hindsight it leaves you longing for more and more of it as the wordy, wordy script continues.

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. (From L) Katherine Keberlein as Richard III, Mike Steele as Rivers, and Erica Bittner as Queen Elizabeth

 

If you don’t know Shakespeare’s Richard III inside and out then do yourself a favor and re-read the script before you go to see this production.  

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Erica Bittner as Queen Elizabeth

 

Many Chicagoans have been spoiled by Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ability to make the Bard’s works so accessible that you can walk into their theater with no foreknowledge of the script and follow it en toto with little effort and also appreciate the many rich phrases that make Shakespeare such a treat. 

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. Colin Morgan as Clarence

 

With this production in contrast, if you don’t know the Shakespeare script thoroughly you will likely find yourself playing catch-up throughout this performance. 

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. (From L) Katherine Keberlein as Richard III, Jeremy Trager as Hastings, and John Arthur Lewis as King Edward

 

Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux. (From L) John Arthur Lewis as King Edward and Mike Steele as River

 

Yes, it’s easy to grasp the generality of violence, plots, and intrigue but much of the time words pile high and you have to plow through it to follow the details. 

 

Remember though, all Oracle productions are free.  Prepare to want to make a donation. The effort here and fine touches are worth our support.

 

Now through November 8.

 

Storefront Theater

66 East Randolph Street

Chicago, IL

 

Tickets are free but reservations are strongly recommended.

Visit Oracle’s website for tickets and additional information.

 

 

 

 

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