They don't make villains like they used to. When it comes to malevolent malfeasance, Lex Luthor and Dr. No were unworthy to hold the cloak of Richard III as he rolled up his sleeves to dispatch another innocent. Actually, the dastardly Plantagenet preferred to snap his fingers to minions and let them get their hands dirty as he carved his way to the crown by 1483. At least that's so according to William Shakespeare's historical drama Richard III, which the newly resurrected Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater is staging at the Roots Arts and Cultural Center, on Westminster Street in Providence (through November 18).
DASTARDLY Casey in Richard III.
The energetic production is directed by Bob Colonna, who trimmed the second- lengthiest play of the Bard (Hamlet is longest) to two hours, including two brief intermissions. All the mayhem has been retained, though, especially that which establishes and clarifies the dark psyche of Richard, which explains why the play in its early years often was billed as a tragedy.
Bobby Casey is a dynamic portrayer of Richard, and convincingly so, for the most part. He extracts twisted humor from the role without letting the man's brutal nature fade from view. The only moment of flagging plausibility I noticed was when Richard has to flatter Lady Anne (Leann Heath) to marry him even though she despises him for murdering her husband and son. Authentic sincerity was not evident.
In his opening monologue, Richard enthuses over his capability for evil, the ambitious Duke of Gloucester's way of feeling empowered. He is downright gleeful in Casey's depiction, leaving a strong enough impression to contrast nicely with King Richard's guilty remorse at the end. He calls himself a villain and murderer then, saying he hates himself "for awful deeds committed by myself!" Before the Battle of Bosworth Field, in which his bloody two-year reign ends with his death, Richard says he had imagined the souls of his murder victims coming to his tent, and they gather, as if in a dream.
A questionable decision was to depict the humpbacked Richard erect and straight-shouldered, without even a token stoop, as his deformity is sometimes finessed (contemporary accounts mentioned one shoulder as being higher than the other). The playwright found that convenient, allowing him to associate outer deformity with inner. After all, he had Richard describe himself at the very beginning as "rudely stamp'd," saying that "dogs bark at me as I halt by them." Unnecessary alteration. Political correctness was satisfied by one of the best actors here — Meryn Flynn portraying violent Queen Margaret, skulls decorating her like jewelry — performing from her wheelchair.
Director Colonna appears briefly as Richard's brother, King Edward IV, furious and despondent that his brother, the Duke of Clarence (Mike Daniels), has been executed because a reprieve arrived too late. But most of the political deaths occur without hope of delay. At the king's death, before the young Prince Edward (Jonah King) can be crowned, Richard has the boy's accompanying protectors arrested and killed. When the prince and his younger brother, the Duke of York (Jasper Summers), impress Richard with their intelligence by bantering cleverly with him, he fools them into staying in the Tower of London, has rumors spread that the princes were illegitimate, then has them killed.