The Barter Theatreâ€™s current production of â€śRichard IIIâ€ť comes about as close as anyone ever has â€” or probably ever will â€” to making what many consider Shakespeareâ€™s toughest play both enjoyable and understandable. Working with a small cast, limited space and an original script that is far too long for modern derrieres, director Katy Brown has produced not just a play but an experience not soon to be forgotten.
Instead of half-heartedly attempting to re-cast the play into modern times as is so often done with flaccid results, Brown has kept the catty royal gossip, swordplay, severed heads, smothered princes and deadly political intrigues in the 16th century. Or has she?
All through this amazing production we keep seeing subtle and not-so-subtle references â€” sometimes called â€śEaster eggsâ€ť â€” to things that belong to other centuries including our own. Thereâ€™s nothing blatant like the Duke of Gloucester whipping out a cell phone or an AR-15, but notice his dagger. Itâ€™s a bayonet off of, I think, a 1903 Springfield rifle, the primary weapon of American forces during WWI. Barter doesnâ€™t make this kind of mistake.
The story, which is clearly explained before the play begins by both the actors and a printed handout, concerns Richard, Earl of Gloucester, who finds himself bored between wars and, due to his physical deformities, unable to roust up much â€śgirlie action,â€ť so he decides he might as well become king of England. The only problem is that he is fifth in line for the top job, and he has the proverbial snowballâ€™s chance of moving up. Unless, of course, a few heads get lopped off along with an unfortunate â€śaccidentâ€ť or two. And our hero Richard doesnâ€™t pretend to be a Boy Scout. In fact, he openly brags to the audience about his schemes and wickedness.
By this time in the play, we begin to see our own political schemers in Richard. Do we detect relevance when Clarence, next in line to the throne, gets himself Vince Fostered? Could our own royalty wannabes be just as evil in his â€” or her â€” own way as Richard?
Andrew Hampton Livingston does an excellent portrayal of Richard, possibly just a tiny bit too â€śrough.â€ť Sean Maximo Campos plays numerous characters all equally well, and, in addition, he choreographed some really amazing fight scenes. Tricia Matthews, Paris Bradstreet, Mary Lucy Bivins and Hannah Ingram also play numerous parts. If there is a standout here, other than Livingston and Campos, it is Kim Morgan Dean, a Barter newcomer, but with a long list of theatre accomplishments. Her voice is strong, her presence mesmerizing.
Unfortunately, â€śRichard IIIâ€ť only plays through May 5 so hie thee to 1-276-628-3991 for tickets and prepare to be amazed.