Last night Kish and I went to see the Actors’ Theatre performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Schiller Park. It was a clear, beautiful night, which has been so rare in Columbus that we felt like we had to take advantage of it. And what better way to celebrate a pretty evening than by sitting outside, watching one of the Bard’s finest works?
In our world William Shakespeare’s genius is just an accepted fact of life, and things that are accepted often, perhaps, are not fully appreciated. That’s unfortunate. Richard III is a fantastic piece of creative work — bright and snapping in its language, brilliant in its cast and settings, and ultimately intense in its crushing moral message. The tale of bloody, duplicitous, deformed Richard of Gloucester, who slays friends, brothers, and children and endures the hatred of his own mother in his ruthless quest for the throne and then is brought low to die alone, is simply one of the very finest pieces of theater that has ever been written. The second half of the play, in particular, is an awesome tour de force, and the penultimate scene where Richard, on the eve of the final battle, is haunted in his dreams by the ghosts of the people he has murdered, who tell him to “Despair, and die!” is uniquely, chillingly powerful.
The Actors’ Theatre production does a fine job with this titanic work, with Geoff Wilson, as Richard, and Vicky Welsh Bragg, as Queen Margaret, being particular standouts in my view. Interestingly, the production places the play in a ’50s-era gangland setting, complete with fedoras, pin-striped suits, and Chuck Berry and Frank Sinatra song snippets between scenes, but it otherwise sticks to the original Shakespeare dialogue. The result didn’t quite work for me — “My kingdom for a horse!” shouldn’t come from the mouth of a guy wearing a sharkskin suit, I think — by the play itself still shines. Anyone who loves good writing and good acting should see it.