Theater Review: AS220’s Richard III
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
AS220’s Black Box Theatre in Providence. The costuming is rudimentary, the lighting and sound design are basic, and the stage is essentially bare the entire performance. None of it matters, though, because what you have here, in place of larger, more showy productions, is a chance to directly experience what’s most important about any Shakespeare play: the language of the world’s greatest writer. And under Terry Shea’s direction, the performers together do a very commendable job of making the language come alive.
A Powerful Interpretation
That’s of course never an easy thing to do, but Richard III, one of Shakespeare’s best and most popular plays, presents some particularly strong challenges. For one thing, it’s unusually complicated. Much of the action depends on events that occur in Shakespeare’s earlier depiction of the Wars of the Roses—Henry VI, Pt. 3, a work not familiar to many theatregoers. For another, Richard’s machinations in pursuit of the crown proceed quickly along several lines; you know that Richard’s up to no good, but it can be hard to understand exactly what he’s doing and why. Finally, this is an exceptionally long play, and so it’s important to make judicious cuts that streamline the action while also holding the story together.
So Shea and Counter-Production’s Artistic Director Ted Clement deserve a lot of credit for their shaping of the text. Combined with the very small performance space and lack of staging (which I didn’t miss at all), it keeps the action clipping along. Even more important, they preserve the core moral logic of the play by keeping intact several key women’s roles. Many versions of Richard III cut out or drastically reduce the presence of Margaret of Anjou, the deposed and humiliated former Lancaster queen; the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother; or Elizabeth, the widow of Edward IV, Richard’s older brother. This is a serious mistake, in my view: It’s these women, especially Margaret, who call Richard what he is, while noblemen, politicians, and clergy either hitch themselves to his wagon or try to slink away in self-preservation.
I do wish, though, they’d kept the focus entirely on the play’s language and their actors. A small screen at the back of the stage occasionally shows images intended to correlate with the words and actions in front of it. Many of the images show real creativity, but they don’t really add anything necessary. Why show a dripping strawberry, for example, when Richard juicily eating them as he demands the murder of children is a much more grotesque symbol?
A Strong Ensemble
Of course, without quality acting even the best script is useless, and collectively the company makes the grade. We must begin with the title character, played by Michael Puppi. Unfortunately, not every aspect of his performance works for me. To not even hint bodily at Richard’s deformities, despite the play’s numerous references to his hunchback, twisted leg, and withered arm, seems like a curious omission. And while I guess it’s a defensible choice to play Richard as gay, despite the utter absence of anything in the text to support the interpretation, too often he comes across as more campily preening than menacing. That said, Puppi does a very fine job depicting Richard’s viciousness and torment during his long fall into perdition after taking the throne. Then he’s convincingly dangerous, damned, and defiant.
In addition, while it might be Richard’s play, this production includes a strong set of supporting performers. Ted Clement plays George, Richard’s doomed brother, and he’s a particularly strong example of why this spare, even plain, production works so well: He recounts his dream of damnation while barely moving, but his broken voice gives us everything we need to understand the writhings of his soul.
But it’s Margaret, Elizabeth, and the Duchess of York who stand out most as supporting characters. C.L. Goff’s Margaret holds her hands piously in prayer but spits out hellish invective against all who she believes have wronged her. You can see why Richard tries to evade her when he can. Further, it’s hard to make lament work, particularly when in such an intimate setting the effects can be just noise in place of emotion, but as Elizabeth, Valerie Remillard Myette’s cries of despair are very affecting. Further, she’s marvelous when late in the play she turns Richard’s rhetoric against him. And Becky Minard gives us a Duchess of York broken by loss after loss but who can still summon the dignity and strength to condemn her murderous son.
To be honest, taken as a whole, this production doesn’t fully rise to the level of Trinity Rep or the Gamm (at least when those companies are at their best). But that observation is no criticism. The cast and crew of Counter-Productions nonetheless have created an admirable interpretation of a remarkable play that puts Shakespeare’s genius at the forefront. And for that they deserve our attention and applause.
Richard III runs May 15-16 at 7:00 p.m. and May 17 at 2:00 p.m. AS220 Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire Street, Providence, RI. Tickets $20.00. CPTCRI.com.
Related Slideshow: 25 Fun Things To Do For Free In New England
Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, RI is a must for a free day of beautiful coastline views and marine life education. Explore the tide pools and look for little creatures, walk on the rocks and admire the lighthouse. It’s a great place to bring kids, a dog, or even just a lawn chair and a book.
Photo Rick Payette/Flickr
Providence WaterFire has grown to be an iconic Rhode Island event. Starting out in 1994 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of First Night Providence, it has grown to run continuously, once a month, from May-November and boasts over 80 blazing fires in the middle of the Providence River. WaterFire is a not-for-profit organization that aims to creatively transform Providence – and they do! Each event is accompanied with music by artists from around the world, varies food stands and art stands to browse as you stroll along the river.
Photo: Liz West/Flickr
On the first Saturday of every month, enjoy free admission to the Worcester Art Museum from 10am-noon. If you’re a member or a child under 3, you have free admission all the time. Take a trip to the museum to check out the popular Arms and Armor collection, Chinese Art or Islamic Art and much more. A great destination for a free, fun and educational family trip!
The idea behind the Blackstone River Bikeway was to create a bike path running 48 miles, from Worcester to Providence along the National Heritage Corridor. It links the Blackstone River and the Blackstone Canal and will eventually connect with the East Bay Bike Path in Rhode Island. The path isn’t completed yet, but riders can enjoy the segment that is, free of charge.
Ninigret Park in Charlestown, RI is open to the public every day, year-round. Hours of operation are 8am-sunset. Depending on the time of year you explore the park, you may find festivals and other various special happenings. Otherwise, you can enjoy free access to tennis courts, a bike course, basketball courts, and A Kid’s Place Playground. Most exciting, though, is the free, 18-hole Frisbee Disk Golf Course.
Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr
If you want a little bit of an outdoor adventure, hike to Royalston Falls in Royalston, MA. The hike itself isn’t too long, but it can be challenging. It leads you to a remote gorge created by prehistoric glacial meltwater and 45 foot plunging waterfall within a half-hidden ravine. If you’re up for the adventure, the destination is far worth the trek.
One of Newport’s most famous attraction is its gilded age mansions lining the coast. Entry to the mansions will cost a small fee, but with the Cliff Walk, you can enjoy views of the mansions with breathtaking views of the water for free. The 3.5 mile long path runs behind the mansions on the eastern shore of Newport. It is a National Recreation Trail – the first in New England! The majority of the walk is easy, but be sure to wear good shoes; the sand can make the path slippery.
The Sprinkler Factory in Worcester is not actually factory, but rather a gallery. Though, its namesake does come from the real-life sprinkler factory started by Howard Freeman in WWII. Why? Because he embodies “the spirit of innovation.” With the aim of providing the public with a place to display and enjoy the visual arts, the Sprinkler Factory hosts exhibitions once a month, and they’re always free.
For Rhode Island’s own version of Boston’s Freedom Trail, follow the painted green line for the Independence Trail. The 2.5 mile tour of historic Providence “takes you over four centuries of history, architecture, culture, and folklore.” Don’t worry about where to begin, the route is circular so you can start anywhere! Along the painted green trail on the sidewalks you’ll find red emblems with a phone number and a location number. If you want some more historical context or to know what it is exactly you are looking at, call the number and punch in your location to hear fun facts and stories about that particular point of interest. You’ll see sights like St. John’s Cathedral, historical cemeteries, and the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country.
This is exactly what it sounds like – a place to see real dinosaur footprints! In Holyoke, MA, Dinosaur Footprints is home to more than 130 fossilized dinosaur footprints, available for you to check out up close. Scientists think these prints were the tracks of small groups of carnivorous, two-legged dinosaurs that may have been up to 15 feet tall! The larger prints were likely from an ancestor of the T-Rex. You can find fossils of fish, plants, and more. Don’t miss the group of 20 plus tracks at the site, which helped form the theory that dinosaurs travelled together in packs.
If you’re looking for a dose of natural beauty and healthy activity, try going for a spin on the East Bay Bike Path. The first bike facility to be under the State, it is a 13.8 mile trail that connects 8 different parks from Providence to Bristol. Do the whole thing or just a stretch and cross over bridges and by coves on the Narragansett Bay shore. The bike path is open year round.
Photo: Michael St Jean/Flickr
Watch Hill, RI
Watch Hill was once inhabited by the Niantic Indians in 1600s and later by the colonists. Its historic lighthouse was built in 1806 and the peninsular town became a resort destination in the early 1900s. Over the years it has housed the summer homes of the rich and famous and boasts beautiful beaches and fabulous shopping and dining. Walk around the quaint little town, check out the waves at East Beach and find Taylor Swift’s property.
The Mass Central Rail Trail is 104 miles of trail from Boston to Northampton. The trail runs along the old railroad tracks that were destroyed in a 1938 hurricane, hence its name. At this point, the entire run has not been opened to the public and is still underway, but there are still plenty of miles of bike-path to enjoy on a beautiful day!
Take a hike at Purgatory Chasm and see the unique landmark that formed naturally approximately 14,000 years ago. Theory has it that the chasm was formed near the end of the last Ice Age with the sudden release of glacial meltwater that had been dammed up. Pretty neat! The chasm is ¼ mile long and runs between giant granite rock, sometimes standing at 70 feet high! You do have to pay to park ($5 MA residents, $6 for you out-of-staters), but exploring the reservation is completely free.
Located on Benefit Street in Providence, the Athenaeum is a unique independent library and cultural center. It was founded in 1836 as an independent library supported by its members, but open to the public. The building itself is impressive- a Greek Revival building finished in 1838. The only building in New England to be designed by William Strickland. The Providence Athenaeum doesn’t call itself a public library, or an academic library, or a community center, but instead a combination of all of those things.
ArtWorcester is a unique space for artists and art enthusiasts alike in the Worcester community. Their main goal is to “exhibit and promote local contemporary artists, free of charge to the public.” They also open their doors for anyone to participate in the gallery exhibits, including first-timers! The exhibits and openings are always free, and you can see a wide range of artists and creative works.
Down in Charlestown, RI on Old Post Road you will find The Fantastic Umbrella Factory. No, they don’t actually make umbrellas. Instead, you will find yourself on a 19th century farmyard “shopper’s paradise and international bazaar.” The old buildings are now inhabited by little shops and cafes and the grounds are covered in interesting and beautiful gardens. As you meander around the property, you’ll see a handful of chickens running around, 2 goats, 3 emus and a lot of ducks. Buy some trinkets while you’re there, or some feed for the animals, or just have fun walking around and seeing everything they have to offer.
If you’re interested in the history of Worcester, where better to go than the Worcester Historical Museum? It’s the only institution in the city dedicated solely to local history. The museum offers exhibitions, programs and tours to take you through the history of the city. If you’re under 18, it’s free! It is also free for members.
If art is really your thing – or not, and you want to give it a try – check out Gallery Night Providence. From March to November, galleries in Providence will open their doors for free tours on the third Saturday of the month. What started in 1996 with just 9 galleries has grown to include museums and historic sites. You have the option of parking at One Regency Plaza (for free!) and hope on one of their themed buses for a 2 hour long tour of approximately 4 galleries. Buses leave at 5:20, 5:40, 6:00, 6:20, 6:40 and 7:00 pm.
Worcester’s Canal District is home to eleven buildings that originate from the early 1800s. Preservation Worcester wants you to enjoy the history available to you, for free! They offer a Canal District Walking Tour, By the Canal, to expose you to the stories of the people and historical events that created Worcester. You can pick up a free tour brochure at the Preservation Worcester office on Cedar Street, download a printable version of the tour and tour map, or download audio files to phone to do an audio tour.
Outside of the Providence Athenaeum, the rest of Benefit Street has much to offer. The mile-long stretch is often referred to as “Benefit Street’s Mile of History” and displays beautiful and original Colonial homes, restored churches and museums. If you head to the Providence Preservation Society, you can embark on a self-guided walking tour of the street and its architecture for free.
The RISD Museum in Providence, RI is free to the public every Sunday! You can wander the various buildings and explore their seven different departments, from Ancient Art to Contemporary Art to Prints, Drawings, and Publications. The museum also features special exhibitions.
Photo: Angela N/Flickr
Colt State Park, located in Bristol, RI, is another beautiful and coastal park open for free public access all year. The property contains 464 acres complete with 4 miles of bike trails, countless fields to run in, a historical museum and over 400 picnic tables. Enjoy a family day at the park or a romantic picnic for two.
One of Newport’s most famous attractions is its gilded age mansions lining the coast. Entry to the mansions will cost a small fee, but with the Cliff Walk, you can enjoy views of the mansions with breathtaking views of the water for free. The 3.5 mile long path runs behind the mansions on the eastern shore of Newport. It is a National Recreation Trail – the first in New England! The majority of the walk is easy, but be sure to wear good shoes; the sand can make the path slippery.
Photo: Timothy Valentine/Flickr
The Rhode Island State House is home to the nation’s 4th largest self-supported marble dome – and you can get an inside look for free. All year, except holidays, the State House offers free hour-long tours Monday-Friday from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm. On the tour you’ll see things like the Bell Room, where RI has its replica of the Liberty Bell on display, and of course, the rotunda, where you can look up at the dome.
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