Richard III

By William Shakespeare
The Genesis Repertory Ensemble
Directed by Jay Michaels
Midtown International Theatre Festival
New 42nd Street Theatre
348 W. 42nd Street, 2nd floor (279-4200)
Equity showcase (Festival closes Aug. 5; call for schedule)
Review by Steve Gold

Richard III has the nastiness of Rudolph Guiliani and the megalomania of Donald Trump. In the end, however, he resembles no one so much as Uncle Joe Stalin. In a cozy theater on 42nd street, the Genesis Rep cooked up an eccentric, swiftly paced rendition of Shakespeare's dark tale of bloodshed and treachery.

It might be easier to list the people who Richard does not murder, as opposed to the ones he does. Brothers, nephews, friends - you name 'em, he kills 'em. His lust for power borders on the erotic. Anyone who blocks his way is simply eliminated, like an annoying housefly, and all because he wants to succeed his ailing brother King Edward IV. This does not occur until Act IV. By this time, Richard has killed his other brother, Clarence (Derek Devereaux); Edward IV's sons the Prince of Wales (Travis Taylor) and the Duke of York (Andrew Leibowitz); and several of Richard's cronies. Then there is Lady Anne (boldly played by Sharita Storm Sage), whose husband and father-in-law were previously murdered by Richard, but who ends up marrying him after one of the weirdest courtship scenes ever written (he later kills her). It falls to the Earl of Richmond (David Erick Austin) - later to become Henry VII - to lead a revolt against Richard that leads to his profoundly well deserved death.

Jay Michaels's production was something of an odd bird: the first two-thirds or so was characterized by an insouciant, almost joky quality. There was a charming and funny puppet show (staged by Vit Horejs) that opened the play and served as a prolog; and the two murderers later employed by Richard (Michael D'Antoni and Matthew Klein) were more comical than sinister. But things become tense when Richard realizes that Richmond is serious about getting rid of him. This transition, from the vaguely lighthearted to gritty drama, could have been awkward. Thanks to Michaels's cast, it wasn't. Paul Nicholas as Richard was first seen as a chatty, avuncular scoundrel; he ended up a frightened shell of a man, unsure of what to do next. Mary Elizabeth McCari was initially haughty and Wagnerian as Edward IV's wife, though this too was softened somewhat as her performance progressed, in keeping with the changing tone of the play. The hollow-cheeked Michael Kearney Wright was eerily sepulchral as the dying Edward IV. Josh Blumenfeld gave to Buckingham, Richard's chief henchman, an effectively weasel-like quality. Austin made credible that Richmond is in fact tough enough to take on Richard. Sheila Mart, as Richard's mother the Duchess of York, offered a goodly supply of sarcastic wit when she tells her darling boy what she really thinks of him. Travis Taylor's Prince of Wales nimbly brought out the precocious cleverness of the Prince of Wales; whereas the relative obtuseness of Devereaux's Clarence was well-displayed.

The smaller roles of Lord Rivers, Hastings, and Catesby (Robert F. Saunders, David Arthur Bacharach and the sonorous-voiced Andrew Westney) were capably filled. Andrew Leibowitz's York was difficult to hear above the rumble of the air conditioner (and someone should have told him beforehand not to chew gum during the curtain call; Edward IV would have been mortified). The evening's piece de resistance, however, was Irma St. Paule's hilariously hell-raising Queen Margaret, widow of Henry VI (predecessor of Edward IV, and yet another of Richard's victims). When Richard goes up against Margaret, we nearly feel sorry for him.

Margo La Zaro's eclectic costumes - shawls, hooded robes, evening gowns - were fine. The lighting (uncredited) was at its most atmospheric when employing shadowy reds and blues to bathe a set consisting of a chair, a semi-rectangular bench, and, resting on the bench, a lonely book.

 Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Steve Gold