"Richard II" is a play in which the King is not a victim of some grand fall from tragic pride, but from the more human, more common weakness of vanity. Filled with the rather arcane details and personages of British history, its story can be more than a little tricky to keep track of, but it is also an intensely personal portrait of a man in a position far above his ability, and inattentive to the dangers which will destroy him.
This Seattle Shakespeare Company production may be physically modest, but it stays entirely focused on the personal dimensions of a story about the human face of history and power. It is a bare stage production, with the only scenic design being the use of black-boarded pillars on which character names are scrawled in chalk until, with the death of each, they are erased. It's a helpful and clever device for keeping the often confusing persons and events manageable. The 11 actors of the company, all dressed in black except for Richard, who wears white, deliver an intelligent, earnest and compelling performance.
As Richard, Peter Crook has a clarity, both in speech and in his physical embodiment of the role, that grounds the production and helps unify its focus. While he never seems to really gain deep insight into the inner course and cause of his fall, he does find a sharp and growing awareness of the nature of the world around him, of his enemies and of his own mistakes, that is touching and significant. Stephanie Shine, who also directed, plays the role of Queen with strength and intelligence. A versatile and confident Sheila Daniels plays a number of roles with good definition and strong, telling emphasis. The company as a whole is competent and vivid.
As the adversarial Henry Bolingbroke, David Quicksall has just the sort of intention and ambition to make him a worthy and dangerous adversary, and to emphasize exactly those qualities which are so critically lacking in Richard. I also enjoyed Jim Dean, whose Duke of York is nicely textured and soundly engaged.
The play, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, seems a bit slow in getting under way, but the story and the production gain momentum, and the evening seems neither slow nor tiresome. Although the set is bare, the costumes (Deborah Skorstad) continue the contrast of darkness and light, the lighting design (Richard Devin) creates caves of shadow and stark plateaus of accent. Finishing it off is a nice incidental score for harp and drum by Lise Kreps.
Seattle Shakespeare Company is a fine organization of serious, accomplished actors and directors devoted to the work of our greatest playwright. This production is admirable, often moving and always intelligent. "Richard II" may be a play about a man who doesn't quite know what to do about the position he finds himself in, but this company knows precisely what it wants to do, and how to go about it.
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