Saturday, March 05, 2016

Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents A Regal Production of "Richard II" by William Shakespeare - At the Cambridge YMCA

I first became familiar with the seldom-performed "Richard II" when my tenth grade English teacher had us memorize the majestic speech by John of Gaunt as he lay dying.  I was enraptured by the speech, and have waited all these years to see a fully staged production of this play.  It was well worth the wait, for this current version presented by ASP under the very deft direction of Allyn Burrows is nearly flawless.

In responding to this play, one must begin with the beauty and poignancy of Shakespeare's language. It is among his most memorable and lyrical.  This company of actors have embraced the Elizabethan dialect as if it were their native tongue, and the rhythms, rhymes, and couplets roll off of their tongues as if lubricated by honey.  There is not a weak link in the cast, led by Doug Lockwood as King Richard II, Malcolm Ingram as John of Gaunt, Mary Lowry as Duchess of York, Paula Plum as Queen, Michael Forden Walker as Bolingbroke, Robert Walsh as Duke of York and Lewis D. Wheeler as Thomas Mowbray et al. Other roles are played by members of the ensemble.

Set Designer Janie E. Howland has created a very basic and serviceable set that utilizes the balcony and aisles at the Cambridge YMCA to good effect. Lighting is by Daniel H. Jentzen, Sound and Original Music is by Arshian Gailus.  Costumes by Tyler Kinney perfectly capture the period of the play.

As King Richard II, Mr. Lockwood is perfectly cast - tall enough to be regal, slender and pale enough to appear vulnerable.  A highlight of this production is the famous speech in which he catalogues his slef-imposed woes and those of monarchs who have gone before him:

 "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings; 
How some have been deposed; some slain in war, 
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; 
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown 
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, 
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, 
Allowing him a breath, a little scene, 
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks, 
Infusing him with self and vain conceit, 
As if this flesh which walls about our life, 
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus 
Comes at the last and with a little pin 
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!" (Act 3, Scene ii)

Another highlight was the aforementioned death speech by John of Gaunt, as he rails against Richard's egregious abuse of power, delivered with exceptional pathos by Malcolm Ingram and worthy of excerpting herein:

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

"King Richard II", Act 2 scene 1

Other memorable performances include those of Robert Walsh as Duke of York, trying to reign in Richard's excesses, and ultimately siding with his enemies.  Lewis D. Wheeler handles multiple roles and accents with nuanced precision, as does the always formidable Paul Plum as Queen and Duke of Aumerle.

ASP Richard II
(l to r) Northumberland (Marya Lowry),
King Richard II (Doug Lockwood), Bishop of Carlisle (Malcolm Ingram),
Bolingbroke (Michael Forden Walker), and Henry Percy (Lewis D. Wheeler).
At Cambridge YMCA through March 13th
Photo by Stratton McCrady
The play treats the primary issue of the abuse of tyrannical powers, as Richard eliminates enemies and steals another's inheritance for his own purposes.  We find ourselves in a season in which we seem on the brink of crowning a Republican candidate for President whose morals and values make those of King Richard seem, in comparison, like those of the Sisters of Mercy. This ancient drama serves as an all too timely cautionary tale reminding us that we had better be very careful into whose hands we place the sceptre, praying that reason and righteousness will Trump demagoguery and chicanery. For our hard-earned freedoms are fragile and far from "brass impregnable"!

Unless Mark Rylance were to return to our shores in the near future, one would be hard pressed to find any time soon a more beautifully wrought production of "Richard II."  Head to Central Square and take in the sublime poetry of The Bard and the superb mastery of the ensemble of The Actors' Shakespeare Company.  This production runs through March 13th.



Actors Shakespeare Project Website

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