Richard II, a Curtainup off-Broadway premierereview CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp Review
Richard II

How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy;
What reverence did he throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles
And patient underbearing of his fortune.
br>— Richard II, on his banished cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford
Sean McNall and Jolly Abraham
(Photo credit: Greogry Costanzo
In its most recent offering, the Pearl Theatre has deftly handled Shakespeareís difficult (and long), history play, Richard II. The play broadly concerns a king, used to ruling his subjects in every aspect of the word, challenged by a new form of government which recognizes the existence and desires of the realmís subjects.

Sean McNall, as the tortured, writhing old-school king, strikes the perfect balance between magisterial, paranoid, and philosophical. Mr. McNall reminds me a bit of Christopher Walken; this is a compliment. Alternating his rage at his reversal of fortune at the hands of his banished cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Grant Goodman), with stoicism and black humor, the unpredictable Mr. McNall, with effortless range, simply commands the stage as Richard II.

Other standouts in the cast are Dan Kremer as Richardís uncle and Henryís father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and, particularly, Bill Christ as Edmund, Duke of York, who can switch from stern to slapstick in seconds, masterfully controlling a difficult comedic switch in the latter part of the play.

The eloquent Richard II is written mostly in rhyming verse and can be clunky for actors. Director J.R. Sullivan has nimbly coached his cast to avoid hitting the rhymes too hard, so that the audience can focus on the action.

Harry Feinerís staging is ingenious, fashioning the interior of a castle from painted wire mesh, like that used for window screens. He also neatly rolls one of two staircases into the stage, when necessary, to create space for the several characters who sometimes occupy the stage simultaneously. Stephen Petrilliís exquisite lighting, through muslin made to represent stained glass, occasionally challenges the laws of physics in its expansion of space. Martha Hallyís costume design is simple, with unmistakable flourishes of regality that donít overpower.

No, the production is not perfect, but itís strong. Sure, I had a few quibbles. I know that dual (and, in this case, even quintuple!) roles are common, particularly in a play with more than 30 characters. Yet, there is something slightly jarring about seeing Jolly Abraham, who plays Richardís Queen, re-emerge later as Harry Percy, one of the anti-king plotters. It was also disconcerting to see the distinctive Chris Mixon as Thomas Mowbray, the recently banished Duke of Norfolk, re-enter the stage a few scenes later as the Earl of Northumberland. A group of high school audience members sitting near the stage began to poke each other in the ribs, trying to figure it all out.

A bit of practical advice: if you see the show, try to grab a bite to eat beforehand. Intermission is only 12 minutes long, and the night I saw the show it was more like eight. Youíll want to feel comfortable to enjoy this solid performance of a fascinating and sometimes neglected Shakespearean masterpiece.

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Richard II
By William Shakespeare
Directed by J.R. Sullivan
Cast: Sean McNall (Richard II); Simon Kendall (Bushy; Lord Fitzwater); Charlie Francis Murphy (Bagot; Lord Berkeley; Welsh Captain; Sir Pierce of Exton); Robin Leslie Brown (Green; Duchess of Gloucester; Gardenerís Assistant; Murderer 1); Dan Kremer (John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; Gardener); Grant Goodman (Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford); Chris Mixon (Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk; Earl of Northumberland); Dominic Cuskern (Lord Marshal; Yorkís Servant; Lord Salisbury; Abbot of Westminster; Groom); Wayne T. Carr (Duke of Aumerle; Lord Willoughby; Keeper of the Prison); Bill Christ (Edmund, Duke of York); Jolly Abraham (Queen; Harry Percy); Carol Schultz (Bishop of Carlisle; Lady Attending the Queen; Duchess of York); Simon Kendall (Sir Stephen Scroop; Murderer 2);
Set Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Martha Hally
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Dramaturg: Kate Farrington
Voice and Text Direction: Dudley Knight
Fight Direction: Rod Kinter
Assistant to the Director: David Ian Lee
Movement Coach: Kali Quinn
Production Stage Manager: Dale Smallwood
Running Time: Three hours (including one 12-minute intermission)
The Pearl Theatre, 131 W. 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), www,pearltheatre.org
From Nov. 8; closing Nov. 24; opening Nov. 20
Tues,. Thurs,. Fri., Sat., Sun. @ 7:30pm, Wed., Sat. & Sun. 2:30 pm
Reviewed by William Coyle, based on the November 17 performance
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