Richard III Review - Royal Ruthlessness a Rocky Ride

Wallace Acton as Richard III at CST until November 22

According to Artistic Director Barbara Gaines,

“Richard is one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant characters. As he seduces us as his audience, we become complicit in his crimes. He plays with us, toys with us, manipulates us. We know we’re being manipulated but it’s such an enjoyable ride and he’s such an interesting character that we don’t care.”

Phillip James Brannon

Richard III was no joy ride.

Wallace Acton and Angela Ingersoll

There was much right about this production—outstanding performances by the strong women in the cast, eye-popping scenic design, lighting and special effects in the second act, Gaines even found a nice niche for Mark Grapey who makes you laugh by walking on stage.

But the production was problematic. A pitch black performance space with harsh white lighting dominates the first act. There may have been a splash of red, but very little to communicate context.  Almost no furniture and, of course, no walls.

Wallace Acton, Demetrios Troy, Jennifer Harmon, and John Lister

That meant that there was very little action, no sense of place, no visual commentary to underscore the script.  Just talk. As a result, Richard’s atrocities are practically reduced to abstractions.

Wallace Acton and Kevin Cox

During the second act, however, spectacular special effects take the play to a new level of high energy and dramatic intensity.  What a difference!  The best example, a glass box not unlike the Willis/Sears Tower "Ledge," rises from the stage and displays all Richard’s victims, children and all.  It’s appalling, grim and riveting. That was just one of the many powerful moments in act two.  Would that act one had approached the power of act two.

Wallace Acton

Taking on the title role and making his Chicago Shakespeare Theater debut is the renowned, seasoned Shakespearean actor Wallace Acton who frequently performs at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. Acton joins CST stage veterans Kevin Gudahl as Duke of Buckingham, John Reeger as Lord Stanley, Angela Ingersoll as Lady Anne, Dan Kenney as Sir William Catesby, Wendy Robie as Queen Elizabeth, and Mary Ann Thebus as Duchess of York.

Wendy Robie and Matt de Caro

The cast also includes: Jennifer Harmon as Queen Margaret; Matt DeCaro as Edward IV; Marc Grapey as Lord Mayor of London; Phillip James Brannon as Duke of Clarence; Mark D. Hines as Ghost of Henry VI; John Lister as Lord Hastings; Andi Bohs as Mistress Shore; Kevin Cox as First Murderer; Brendan Marshall-Rashid as Richmond; Steve Pringle as Scrivener; Juan Gabriel Ruiz as Lord Grey; Demetrios Troy as Lord Rivers; James Anthony Zoccoli as Sir Robert Brakenbury, and the children played by Scott Baity, Jr., Samuel L. Johnston, Matthew Heffernan and Joshua Heinlein.

Directing the production and leading the creative team is Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines who, since founding the company in 1986, has directed more than 30 of William Shakespeare’s plays. Last season she directed the critically acclaimed Macbeth, following her 2008 staging of The Comedy of Errors, which garnered four Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best Production and Best Director of a Play. She is a recipient of the prestigious Honorary OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in recognition of her contributions strengthening British-American cultural relations.

The veteran CST creative team includes: Scenic Designer Neil Patel; Costume Designer Susan E. Mickey; Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel; Sound Designer Lindsay Jones; Wig and Makeup Designer Melissa Veal; Properties Master Michelle N. Warner; Fight Choreographer Robin H. McFarquhar and Verse Coach Kevin Gudahl.

Richard III runs through November 22, 2009 in the Courtyard Theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. For further information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

Programs in conjunction with performances of Richard III include:

Pre•Amble: half-hour introductory lectures on Richard III presented by scholars will take place 10/4, 10/11, 10/18, 10/25, 11/8, 11/15 and 11/22 at 1:00 p.m. and 10/10, 11/7, 11/14 and 11/21 at 2:00 p.m. Admission is free and reservations are not required.

Cast Call: an informal discussion with the actors in the Theater’s Pub will be Friday, October 9, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., prior to the 7:30 p.m. curtain. Admission is free. No reservations are required.

Post-show discussions follow each Wednesday 1:00 p.m. performance. Admission is free.

No reservations are required.

• The audio-described performance for patrons with visual impairments will be held on Thursday,

November 12, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Patrons should reserve a headset when purchasing tickets in advance. “Access Shakespeare” tickets are $27.

• The duo sign-interpreted performance for patrons with hearing impairments will be held on Friday, November 13, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Patrons should request the specific seating area when purchasing tickets in advance. “Access Shakespeare” tickets are $35.

Photos: Liz Lauren for Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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