Dallas — Richard III marks many milestones for Shakespeare. It’s his first superior drama, the first constructed around one character (whose line length is second only to Hamlet’s), and it’s one of his longest plays. It was wildly popular in the Bard’s time and its titular villain continues to chill and challenge its actors.
However, for this bloody history to work, the role of Richard must be fulfilled by a charismatic presence, and a director is required who is able to find balance and a tone that does not skirt too much toward the comedic—a temptation given the great number of seemingly ridiculous murders, and Richard’s self-deprecating wit. Thus, Shakespeare Dallas is fortunate to have the sweet-voiced Brandon Potter as their lead, and Shakespeare visionary Stefan Novinski at the helm.
Richard’s overwhelming ambition directs and predicts the action of the play, making the fast-moving plot easy to follow. He seeks the “garland of the realm” and either engulfs or takes out any in his way, be they his brother, romantic rival, wife or daughter of those he’s murdered, or his young nephews. Richard may be a “poisonous bunchback'd toad,” but he gets what he wants until his machinations catch up with him in the form of another claimant to the crown, the Earl of Richmond (Marcus Stimac).
Guest Director Stefan Novinski, who teaches drama at The University of Dallas, returns to SD’s mainstage for the first time since his harrowing 2012 Macbeth. His staged reading of Romeo and Juliet two years ago was also superb. He is a patient yet passionate director who stresses understanding and unique characterization, and those talents shine here.
Novinski’s Richard takes place in a quasi-contemporary era of military uniforms and suits (Jen J. Madison) with swords and daggers that are not just ceremonial. There are iPads, headphones, selfies and photo ops in front of a step and repeat red backdrop among the multileveled set (Donna Marquet). The vision is one of political intrigue that transcends time and language enacted by characters who are not a part of the common, non-royal world.
It is difficult to stand out in a play dominated by one outsized character, but the ensemble (a burgeoning strong suit for SD) holds its own. Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso’s fiery Lady Anne curses Richard with alacrity even as she eventually succumbs to his charms. The lamenting Duchess of York (Cindy Beall in the performance reviewed) also gives as good as she gets.
Lydia Mackay’s Queen Elizabeth remains resilient in the face of Richard’s atrocities. David Novinski (disclosure: David also writes for TheaterJones) adds quite a bit of color to his small roles as Murderer 2, Lord Mayor of London, Earl of Oxford, and Guard 3. Dennis Raveneau is similarly adept at filling in where needed.
T.A. Taylor is stalwart as King Edward IV, projecting a resigned weariness well. Marcus Stimac brings patriotic fervor and energy to his portrayal of the Earl of Richmond. Queen Margaret (a magnetic Donjalea Chrane) is a Cassandra-like prophet of doom.
It is Potter’s play, and his Richard is one for the ages. The Dallas Theater Center Brierley Resident Company member played Richard in last year’s Shakespeare in the Bar production to much praise, and SD was smart to tap him for their production. Potter has a deep, nuanced understanding of the language that allows him to project his personality (crucial in this play) all the way to the back bricks. His interpretation tends a little too much to the comedic (even sarcastic); however, he is massively consistent and avoids mustache-twirling villainy. Even his deformities (a gnarled hand and limpy gait here) are believable and not just stage affectations. Potter’s delivery of the ghost dream speech is a thing of beauty.
Trampas Thompson fight choreography is exciting, punctuated by cool slo-mo effects (even if their execution elicited inappropriate laughter).
The success of any Richard III rests on the shoulders of its eponymous lead. As hunched as they are, they bear up this production heroically.
» Richard III runs in rotating repertory with She Stoops to Conquer; Richard III runs on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 23, and She Stoops plays Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through July 22; Mondays are dark.
» Our review of She Stoops to Conquer