ISF 'King Richard' review: Politics, murder and mayhem make for dazzling drama

It's easily one of the season’s best productions.

doland@idahostatesman.comAugust 12, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    What

    “King Richard III”

    When

    8 p.m.

    Aug. 14-5, 17-18, 20, 23, 25, 27, 29-31

    Where

    Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise.

    Tickets

    $30-$41 Fridays-Saturdays, $24-$33 Sundays and Tuesdays-Thursdays. Any night, students with valid ID $18 at 336-9221 and IdahoShakespeare.org.

Richard III is on the throne, and all is not well with the world — or at least not in England. He has lied, schemed and murdered his way to the crown — all the while appearing the picture of piety and humble contrition to the public and peers.

In his ISF debut, director Joe Hanreddy brilliantly hones his polished and streamlined adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s longest texts from a historical tragedy into the fabric of a political thriller that examines the Janus inside every politician.

In this case, it’s Richard of Gloucester (Lynn Robert Berg, in an exceptional performance), and he is a monster.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “King Richard III” opened Saturday. This is Theater with a capital T — it’s a thrill ride to watch a gifted cast enact a well-crafted tale through a mastery of Shakespeare’s language.

Berg, who started with this company when he was in college, takes on the lion’s share of the play in the title role. A powerhouse physical actor, he molds his distinctive bald and towering physique into Richard’s twisted, hunchbacked form without a misstep.

He is deliciously evil in one moment and jubilant at his conquests in the next, as in his seduction of Lady Anne (Laura Welsh Berg). He appears to lay his soul open to her as he manipulates her fear and ambition.

Welsh Berg matches his emotional pitch, but once she accepts his ring, she knows she is doomed.

Hanreddy came up with an elegantly economical solution to the large cast by giving each actor two characters — one who operates with a conscience and one without. So, J. Todd Allen plays Richard’s brother Clarence, whom he murders, and Catesby, Richard III’s henchman.

This tactic gives nearly everyone something juicy to work with, and as a result there are simply too many excellent performances in this production to mention.

Tom Ford, Darren Matthias, Adams, Welsh Berg, Jodi Dominick — who plays both women and young Edward, Prince of Wales — M.A. Taylor, Alex Syiek and David Anthony Smith — who manages to wring true comic irony in several scenes as Buckingham — all perform exceptionally.

New to ISF, actor Eva Barnes stepped in for an injured Laurie Birmingham as Queen Margaret and gives a riveting performance. Margaret sets the tragedy in motion by cursing all who stood by while Richard killed her son, Edward.

Driven mad by her grief, she appears specterlike above the set as she pours blood into a tub each time Richard sends a character to his or her death. It’s one of the visual poetic threads that Hanreddy weaves through the production.

The show also brings a new design team to Idaho. Linda Buchanan’s slick set puts us in an upscale world of contemporary steel-and-glass towers. Martha Hally’s Hugo Boss-inspired costumes seal the deal. Michael Chybowski’s lighting and Richard B. Ingraham’s sound add the final polish, and we’re firmly grounded in 2013.

Note: The story is steeped in the complicated British history of the Wars of the Roses. It would be worth Googling Wars of the Roses before you go.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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