By Holli Harms
The Druid Theatre Company of Galway has brought to these shores DruidShakespeare: Richard III as part of the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. This production is like watching a landscape being made, mountains jutting into the sky and waterfalls crashing down in startling grandiosity and greed in their being.
Utilizing that greed, the entire set comes alive with the singular vibration of Aaron Monaghan’s performance as Richard. He moves across the stage with the help of his two canes like a spider spinning its web. And that is precisely what he is doing, spinning his deadly web across his world and back again.
This Richard is not the ugly monster he is usually depicted as. Oh, he is deformed yes, but also sexy, a beguiling charmer, and funny. He has one singular desire, to be King. Richard manipulates and lies and simply changes his truths as he deems fit. One story for this person, another for that, and all of them manipulated to get him ultimately what he wants – and he WANTS! He is a sneering, snarling embodiment of pure lust for power. His duplicity to all those in his way is his fun.
He also wants to be a god, an old testament god, causing as much chaos and hell as he can. This is a tour de force for Monaghan as Richard III as he gets to unleash the worst of this king, the unpredictable king, the deformed malevolent monster, the trickster, the liar, the deceitful one. He tells us right off the bat that this is his life’s goal to wreak havoc on the kingdom and all those in it.
The War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York is over and there is now peace in the land, and Richard hates peace. In times of peace you are supposed to have lovers and wine and dine with people, but his deformity keeps him out of that arena. But the arena of war he knows and is good at, so now that the war is over, it is time to declare war on his family, have them all killed and crown himself sovereign.
The lighting and set design create a cavernous bunker, a section of hell where light finds its way in through pockets and cracks in the walls and ceiling. A place where the battles of man go on and on and on. The stage is never not in motion with actors coming and going and dying and dying and dying – all of the dead dropped into the same hole center stage, a massive grave of those sacrificed needlessly, and not just to this manipulating fiend, but a representative hole that contains all those that have ever been lost to war and lies and greed.
The actors hold their own with Monaghan’s Richard, but they are his set pieces, his pawns. It is Marie Mullen as Queen Margaret who rivals the villainy of Richard with her anger and spewing disdain as she marks his soul and all the others with her curses. Hunched over, crawling, dirty, penniless, covered in vile, she is his match. Monaghan sets a high bar, and Mullen vaults it with her performance.
It is three hours, but as with any truly excellent production, it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed. At a gallop, the play paces both itself and you as you ride Shakespeare’s trusty steed.
DruidShakespeare: Richard III Written By William Shakespeare, Directed by Garry Hynes, Produced by Druid
Production Team: Francis O’Connor, set and costume design, James F. Ingalls, lighting design, Gregory Clarke, sound design, Conor Linehan, music, David Bolger, movement and fight choreography, Doreen McKenna, co-costume design
Performance length: Three hours, including intermission. There will be no late seating.
Running November 7–23, 2019
At the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 524 W. 59th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues