"Richard 111" Review - A Wonderful Play with Thanks to the Gift Theatre and the Rehab Institute of Chicago

The Gift Theatre in partnership with The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is currently presenting William Shakespeare’s “Richard the Third” at Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted, Chicago through May 1, 2016.  Directed by Jessica Thebus, and starring Richard Patrick Thornton, this production is a must-see, a special and thrilling work of art. At 2 hours and forty minutes long, it holds one in thrall every instant, and made this reviewer gnash her teeth at the interruption of the intermission which dragged me away from the realm of the bloody and cunning Duke of Gloucester.

Jenny Avery and Shanesia Davis

From  the very first words spoken by Richard, we are wrapped in the inimitable poesy of Shakespeare’s immortal psychological explication of Richard’s physical infirmities and warped world-view,  “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York”, to the last gasped utterance, as he lay awaiting  his own inevitable retributive murder on the field of The Battle of Bosworth, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”, we are taken up, taken in, and swept away.

Michael Patrick Thornton and ensemble

An eerie ambience settles over the beautifully crafted intimate theatre in the round. Behind the audience are birch tree stumps, sans leaves, the light is low and flat, the characters draped in Elizabethan gowns or tunics, the crown a spare circlet of blue. The voices are intoned, the actors easily able to manage the turns of phrase. With one unfortunate exception, the acoustics amplified enunciation. In the case of Shanesia Davis, as Margaret and the Ghost, the sound of her often excited utterances was muffled, and often unhearable.

Caroline Dodge Latta

 

The stage makeup is uncanny, the faces of the men clearly from another time, the princes- females all- so young and sweet, the mature women medieval of visage. Caroline Dodge Latta, in particular, as Duchess, Bishop and ghost, had her classic features molded into a carapace of ancient expression truly remarkable to behold.

Kyle Zornes and Shanesia Davis

 

The plot is not difficult to follow- the twisted usurper simply schemes and uses all in reach to achieve the crown. Every time a relative or former lackey is executed, guards with stakes surround the victim and pound their clubs on the stage. Then the unfortunate one, head on or near the block, falls in impossibly graceful succumbing; the Princes in the tower are smothered in sheets. The end comes for the evil one as it must- he's defeated by a true Prince of the Realm.

Thomas J. Cox and Adrian Danzig

Some of the more glorious bits of this unforgettable production are the pragmatically lascivious, as Richard offers himself to the wife and daughter of his victims, directly to the first, (Lady Anne, played with subtle succumbing by Olivia Cygan), and  through her appalled mother, to the second (Jenny Avery, stunning in her aggrieved resignation, as Elizabeth), and prevails  on both with his twisted logic and assured virility. Thornton’s laconic flat Chicago accent ripples with sarcasm, wit and frequent asides. There are likewise many freezes in the action, as the play unfolds, with laments, women’s inspired cursing, treachery, artifice most profound and, of course, killing after killing.

Olivia Cygan and Michael Patrick Thornton

This virtuoso actor suffered a spinal stroke 10 years ago,  which left him in a wheelchair he maneuvers with aplomb and grace, as though it were an extension of his will. Where an old-time wild-west villain would twirl his mustachios to emphasize a point, Thornton whirls and spins. Indeed, his athleticism and that of the rest of the men in the cast is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While the other men joust, tilt, turn and run about and spar and leap, Thornton himself defies any disability.

Michael Patrick Thornton, Martel Manning and Jay Worthington

Once crowned, and clad below the waist in an unobtrusive space-suit type garment, known as a ReWalk exoskeleton, with an RIC worker clutching a box of controls at his back, he walks majestically (what else?) across the stage, and turns, returns, pausing and declaiming as he moves. When he sits back down, nothing could seem more natural than the effort of the RIC helper as she kneels before the crowned liege and removes the straps and buckles.  

Olivia Cygan and Michael Patrick Thornton

Don’t miss this play-you won’t see it’s like again!

Michael Patrick Thornton as Richard the Third

For more information and tickets go to Gift Theatre

 

 Photos courtesy of Claire Demos

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