By Tulis McCall

OK, so most of you know the thread of the story of Richard III (playing now through July 17 at the Delacorte Theater as part of the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park).  A very cranky noble is feeling particularly sorry for himself for a few reasons.  Number one, he had scoliosis – curvature of the spine – and a withered arm.  Altogether unattractive.  In addition, he was is way down in the line of who gets to be the Big Cheese King and when.  Solution: kill everybody ahead of him.  Marry the old queen and kill her too. What could possibly go wrong?

But seeing as how everybody knows this, what could a company do to tip the production on its ear?  Well, you could do away with physical deformity of any sort.  Check.  And you could cast a woman as Richard III.  Check.  And you could cast a black woman.  Check.  A trifecta of alterations.

And they all work.

The key here, it seems to me, is the character of Richard.  In this production he is not a sullen, self referential bastard.  He is a trickster who lures people in.  The first ones he lures in would be us.  The audience.  Danai Gurira takes flirting to a whole new level in this production.  Her Richard uses us as confidants.  From the very opening he lays out his plan with confidence and humor.  As he sets out to achieve each goal he takes us with him and treats us as honored guests.  “See?” he tells us.  “I told you I would do this!” And do it he does.  Over and over again.  Kind of like a President who slandered his own country, eh?

On the way Richard looses both allies and enemies, which one wold think he might notice.  But so single minded is he that these losses are trivial compared to his achieving the throne. One by one people fall and Richard simply steps over the bodies and marched on.  The only one who escapes demise is Queen Margaret (Sharon Washington) who has plenty of venom to spit at any and all who wronged her.  (This would include pretty much everyone).  But she has a special bucket of hate to fling at Richard.  And fling she does.  Washington is a match for Richard in the extreme and makes us all sit up and take notice. Another surprise is the character of Buckingham, played by Sanjit de Silva, who shows up as a three dimensional person with humor, style and grace.

It is Gurira who bears the load of the story and the play, however, and her shoulders are strong.  Even the unexplained inclusion of ASL (American Sign Language) does not throw her off the path.

As the story concludes with Richard’s death we are all exhausted from the mighty effort this cast and this Richard have poured into the telling.   It is easy to get lost in a play of this nature.  Who is related to whom etc.  That is not the case here. This is a deliberate and methodical production that keeps us apace as it unwinds. A memorable tale indeed.

RICHARD III – AT THE DELACORTE THEATER, By William Shakespeare Directed by Robert O’Hara

Featuring Maleni Chaitoo, Wyatt Cirbus, Thomas Della Monica,
Sanjit De Silva, Sam Duncan, Thaddeus S. Fitzpatrick, Skyler Gallun,
Danai Gurira, Sarah Nina Hayon, Monique Holt, Matthew August Jeffers,
Matt Monaco, Gregg Mozgala, Joe Mucciolo, Paul Niebanck, Xavier Pacheco, Marcus Raye Pérez, Grace Porter, Michael Potts, Ariel Shafir, Heather Alicia Simms, N’yomi Stewart, Ali Stroker, Sharon Washington, and Daniel J. Watts

Scenic Design by Mung Hee Cho, Costume Design by Dede Ayite, Lighting Design by Alex Jainchill

Ticket Information  HERE