With the knowledge that posting a review of the last night of a show is not particularly useful… I went and saw the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble's production of Richard III this evening. I'm still kind of awash in the catharsis right now and don't feel like making this a proper review, and, well, see above about its utility. But I have some history with this play in particular, and I've nattered on about it here before1, so bear with me as I natter on some more.
It was a really good show — on par with the Ensemble's best. To be sure, a few of the minor characters weren't superb, and the doubling of characters to actor was confusing to me on a couple occasions, but it's still among the best theater I've seen at MIT. In Richard's opening monologue, he was displaying a distressing tendency to Channel. William. Shatner. And. Punctuate. Every. Phrase. With. A. Gesture. (Here picture the actor milking the giant cow.) Thankfully he smoothed out a lot as the show went on, especially in dialogue with other characters, and such tendencies only briefly appeared in a small number of subsequent monologues. (And dear ghu Richard has a lot of monologues in the beginning of the show.)
The lighting designer had too much of a fondness for shadows, IMO, which made it hard to read the actors' lips occasionally, but that was only very occasionally necessary — in general, despite not using mics, everyone was easy to hear and understand. That is doubly impressive given how poor the space was — it's a multi-purpose room in the Student Center, so it has hard floors and no attention to acoustics. It's really a shame that MIT doesn't have and hasn't seen fit to build more, better performance space for its theater groups. The wooing of Lady Anne scene was appropriately creepy, as was the parallel scene towards the end of the play where Richard tries to persuade the queen whose husband and sons he's killed to help him woo her daughter to be his queen, using similar logic to the first scene. Creeeeeeepy, and as surprisingly potentially effective. The whole royal family dynamics were awesome, very well-acted, and very dysfunctional. Richard was magnanimous and vengeful in equal measure. It was a relatively low-tech production — the dream sequence towards the end of the play was nicely done, using an impromptou screen on stage to project the faces of the ghosts over Richard's tossing and turning form, and lighting and incidental music were used to good effect — but the focus was clearly on the excellent acting. The director reset the play in the style of modern America, with the king as approximately the President, evoked through a portion of the set reminiscent of the Oval Office and a number of subtle visual cues on the part of the actors which I thought were nicely done. She also regendered a couple of the characters, which I barely noticed and even less minded. Resetting the play also allowed her to dispense with swords, using knives and guns as appropriate, and she and/or her fight choreographer kept the fights short, which let the production avoid the comically affected fights which plagued the Ensemble's Fall 2005 production of Macbeth. The closing fight between Richard and Richmond was I thought particularly nicely done — a very effective climax. The director also brought the deaths of the princes and Buckingham on stage, which I thought was better to build Richard's calumny than leaving them off-stage, though I wished she'd done the same for Lady Anne, who got a lot less stage time than I had expected. All told it was a really good production.
I got the sense from watching the play that it was one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, and Wikipedia agrees with me. (Despite having performed a scene from it, I hadn't actually seen the play the whole way through. I'd read bits of it, but I find Shakespeare really hard to just read — text is not the medium of expression it's intended for.) The structure of the play felt more obvious than in other Shakespeare I've seen — the explicit parallels of the two wooing scenes, a number of ongoing obsessions in Richard's remarks, and the unambiguity of his evil all pointed me towards a less mature work. Still it's an interesting play, and one of my favorites.
I miss having theater in my life. Maybe when I graduate. :-/
1: It's really odd that the thing I remember most, five years on, about that scene night — the really excellent rendition of the scene where Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill the King — is represented nowhere in that review. I wonder if I just imagined it. It was awesome — the chemistry between the two was so there, the dialogue and their presence were so right it all practically crackled.