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Richard III-- Mobile Unit Production
The Mobile Shakespeare Unit tucks into the Public Theater following its tour to prisons, homeless shelters, centers for the elderly and diverse community venues in the five boroughs. It marks a rebirth of Joseph Papp’s famous Mobile Shakespeare program that eventually grew into Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater. It also gives a three-dimensional spin, and real wheels, to the Public's ission of going to those who might not seek out Shakespeare on their own.
To give credit where it’s due, Jones is the ace of the production. How many Richards have you seen who combine the air of a gangster with the charm of a gentleman? That's exactly what Jones does. His Richard is equipped with both street-smarts and urbane sophistication, somebody who can alternately mesmerize, seduce, or send paralyzing chills down your spine. Indeed spearheading the role of Richard is a feather in any actor's cap, most recently Kevin Spacey at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But electrifying as Spacey was as the deformed king, Jones wins us over here by going to the core of Richard’s murderous malignity. In his best moments, he embodies Margaret’s curse spewed out in Act 4, Scene 4, where she refers to him as “hell’s black intelligencer.”
Whether you are watching Jones slither about the stage like Mephistopheles in his long black cape, or see him smiling with malice as he blots out the names of his victim, one by one, on a huge white sheet (this portable prop ingeniously outlines the York family tree and serves as a telling index to Richard’s perverse ambition), he lets you intensely feel the moral vacuousness of his personality.
Except for the excellent Lynn Hawley, who plays Queen Elizabeth, the rest of the ensemble has the unenviable burden of playing two or more roles in rapid succession and making quick costume changes. Dehnert has pared down the dramatis personae to about 20 characters (Shakespeare featured 57). Audience members need eagle eyes and sharp attention to keep track of the goings-on. It's easy enough to follow Michael Crane as he morphs from the corpse of Henry VI to the very alive Buckingham (he too becomes a corpse after a spat with Richard). However, things get more complicated when you attempt to track Miriam A. Hyman zig-zagging from the role of George Clarence, to Lord Grey, to Bishop Ely, and then switching to the young Elizabeth. To say the least, the multi-tasking and gender-bending can become mighty confusing en route to tje tragic denouement.
What you don’t get in this compact production is the symphony of motifs, symbols, and rituals that are deeply embedded in Shakespeare's dramatic structure. Cutting and trimming so many scenes and speeches takes away the subtlest music. Still, audiences can enjoy the famous set pieces and the most famous lines (“Now is the winter of our discontent”, “I am not in the giving vein today,” “My kingdom for a horse!”).
What should not be overlooked is this production's American spunk. The contributions of Linda Roethke for her no-frills set and costumes, the fluid acting of the cast, and the sheer gutsiness of director Dehnert deserve a shout-out. It's Richard III that's all in the key of fresh and forward.
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