Part of Wings Theatre Company's Gay Play Series, Richard and Philip uses an intriguing bit of history as its starting point but quickly devolves into a smoothly staged but hamfisted melodrama. Playwright George Barthel states in the program that his work "explores the idea of human passion as a shaping force in history." It's a worthy premise, and the possibility of an affair between Richard Lionheart and Philip, King of France, seems promising, but the language is too steeped in awkward metaphors and sexual clichés to convince emotionally.
The soap-operatic feel of the production was fueled further by much of the acting, particularly Anthony Amen's Richard, who seemed to be pushing his voice into an exaggerated "manly" register while assigning at least three facial expressions to every emotional reaction. He often gave the impression that he would react at the same time, in the same way, with or without another actor on stage. Richard Bacon fared somewhat better as Philip, though he struggled somewhat with so many consecutive lines meant to be arch and knowing that he didn't have much chance to imbue his performance with much variety. Ray Wagner, as Henry, clearly relished the opportunity to play the old king. He delivered a complex and witty performance with the flair of a seasoned character actor and was immensely enjoyable despite a strange vocal tic that was apparently a character choice. Gregory Mikell, all strength and competence as Marshall, gave a solid performance that was sometimes overshadowed by the scenery-chomping of his colleagues. Also featured were Alexander LeFevre and Michael E. Lopez.
The design was generally effective and unassuming. Of particular note were costumes by Tom Claypool and L.J. Kleeman. On a presumably limited budget, the costumes lent realistic weight to a production that often strayed into exaggerated flourishes. Graham Kindred's lights added to the general atmosphere of dramatic tension without drawing too much attention to themselves; shadowy patches on stage added texture without decreasing visibility. Bill Wood's painted flats seemed a little out of place given the more naturalistic costumes and props, but were well-executed. L.J. Kleeman staged the production efficiently and with little fuss.
As with much self-proclaimed "gay theatre," too much of the evening seemed to build up to the next kiss or the next glimpse of a naked torso. There's a fascinating story to be explored here, one that can't be realized solely with titillation and dramatic posturing. This sense of unrealized potential is what was most frustrating about Richard and Philip: that the play could so clearly have been so much better.
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Copyright 2002 Frank Episale