MADISON, NJ – A taut, compelling production of “Richard III,” that cunning, evil king, will mesmerize you at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
Director Paul Mullins has kept the action at full tilt, even as a raft of henchmen and royalty people the stage. Of course you need an actor as Richard who can both charm and antagonize those around him. Derek Wilson fills the bill admirably, with a performance that conveys both his twisted body and mind.
But all the actors are first rate in this dazzling production. Ames Adamson as Lord Hastings soon learns that he is no longer in Richard’s favor, which ultimately results in his beheading. John Hickok as Duke of Buckingham also discovers Richard’s devious nature.
And Richard is not above killing off the two princes to ensure they won’t inherit the throne. Metin Akcay and Ben Hajek along with alternate James Suggitt are the two youngsters. Their mother, Queen Elizabeth, played by Gretchen Hall is devastated with her many losses, all caused by Richard and his ambition.
Carol Halstead in Queen Margaret, displaying her spite at Richard and, at one point, stabbing herself in her own hand with a hairpin. Ellen Fiske is Duchess of York, mother of Richard, Edward and Clarence. You can sense how silently torn she is by the atrocious chain of events. Even Clarence (John Keabler), Richard’s brother, is not immune to killing him off early on as he awaits his fate in a dungeon. LadyAnne is played by Amaia Arana, who is persuaded by Richard to marry him despite the recent death of her husband Edward, son of the late Henry VI.
It all gets very complicated, but fortunately there’s a family tree to help us understand the connections within the War of the Roses: the Lancasters and the Yorks, whose symbols are red and white roses.
The play is done in modern dress, with a simple but striking set designed by Brittany Vasta. The only ornament is a crystal chandelier in one corner of the stage. Costumes by Kristin Isola reflect the contemporary theme, with the women in long dresses and the men often in suits or leather jackets. And they’re using guns more often than swords. Rick Sordelet choreographed the adroit fight scenes.
It’s always fascinating in Shakespearean productions to recognize familiar phrases. Right from the start we hear the Richard, Duke of Gloucester say, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” And towards the end he delivers the powerful, “My kingdom, my kingdom for a horse.”
Considering that “Richard III” is Shakespeare’s second longest play after “Hamlet,” this one ties all the elements together in a production that never lets up. (You’re not likely to doze off.)
Performances continue through Nov. 6 at The Shakespeare theatre of New Jersey, located on the Drew University campus in Madison. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit shakespearenj.org.