Richard the Second
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Elenore Holdridge
Starring Ryan Farley, Amy Hutchins, and Tim Williams
If there’s a universal topic for a play, it’s hubris. Don’t consider yourself too high and mighty; the Gods of Literature shall surely pull you down. We find King R2 (Farley) holding court, as kings are wont to do. He’s elegant and foppish and has a local spat on his hands. Two of his lords, Bolingbroke (Hutchins) and Mowbray (Williams) are about to fight. The reason is murky, but they are just McGuffins. Richard calms them down, and then exiles Bolingbroke for 10 years, and Mowbray permanently. Why? Just because he can. He’s king and need not rationalize anything. When his uncle, John Gaunt (Jan Neuberger) dies, Richard grabs his estate and uses the cash to cash to invade Ireland. Ireland looks like an easy target: nearby, disorganized, they sort of speak English, and the sea voyage is short. While he’s a battle, Mowbray and Bolingbroke return illegally and plaster over their differences until Richard slinks back after getting his gets his butt handed to him by the Irish. Losing an unnecessary and heavy leveraged war is never good, and he’s dethroned and tossed in prison. There he makes a beautiful speech, but that’s not enough : he dies broke and disgraced.
As Shakespearian tragedies go, this one was easy to follow. Farley’s Richard looks elegant but seems to miss the finer subtly of stealing a man’s estate without getting caught. He becomes a poster boy for the Dunningâ€”Kruger effect: less smart than he suspects himself to be, he snatches defeat from the jaws of victory with a practiced ease. But he’s likeable, a trait of all good con men. The man I’d vote for king here is Mr. Williams. He looks good in that snappy olive drab paramilitary uniform, and he can stand up very straight when commanded to. His reluctant partner, Ms. Hutchins, is less a figure head and more a “git-‘er-done” soldier: A bit roughhewn, but effective where it counts. Our Queen (Ana Martinez Median) rarely shows much fire; I see her as the first lady whose number one goal is to stay alive until the curtain, and then write a tell all memoir. Our set looks oddly familiar; the giant door from “Doll’s House 2” is up there and the set is rearranged and covered with a formal vinery giving it a garden wedding look. Large rings hang on high, then descends to form a terminal prison cell. All is elegant, and economical.
Tonight, we see loose parallels with the current political clime; Richard is more suave and pleasant than needs be, and the crowds of hangers-on and statesmen packing bags of vipers draw parallels with our news media. This may not be Shakespeare’s best work, but it offers useful sound bites, and of course sets up a bigger drama for next season. So often Shakespeare’s works are presented at random and the historical thread needed to unravel all these kings and pretenders gets lost. Here you have a chance to see a complete political arc over the next year and follow this crisis of the late middle ages reflected in today’s glossier but no fewer bitter battles.