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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To Richard III at Shakespeare in Delaware Park last night. I suppose some actors yearn to play Hamlet, and some hope to grow into Lear, but Tim Newell makes a proper Duke of Gloucester, and I imagine he's been waiting for the day that he got a turn at it for some time now. Richard is really an extended character part, and Newell  does it up right.  Saul Elkin's direction helps him a good bit along the way while making some interesting and challenging choices. We notice right off that this is going to be a somewhat different Richard by the delivery of the "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech. It is such a great opener that few can resist really chewing it up, but Newell and Elkin let it build slowly, so that the first few lines are nearly conversational. Shakespeare had in Richard the same problem that Milton had in Satan, of course-- the best character is the villain. Both Shakespeare and Milton try, I think, to compensate for this by giving everyone else a lot to say about what a bad guy the villain is, and the result, in Richard III at least, is that the play is surprisingly bulky-- it is the second longest of Shakespeare's works. In most of the productions I've seen the director just throws up his hands at this, and starts making cuts. The effect of the cuts is usually to make Richard even more sympathetic-- or at least more fascinating. Elkin has gone the other way. He leaves in more than I've ever seen in a production of this play, and if Richard remains compelling, well, after all, he was a pretty persuasive guy when it comes right down to it. By leaving in, for example, Margaret, (well done by Lisa Vitrano) we get a lot more context, and a much better sense of what a nest of vipers the English court was. (Margaret is also a great character. She is easy enough to cut out, but she *gets* it.)

I am always surprised at the exodus which occurs after the intermission at SiDP, but it would be a mistake to miss the second half of this production, which may be the best direction I've seen from Elkin. He emphasizes the psychological dimension of the character here, and uses lighting and sound to bring out the real drama in the play, rather than employing a lot of stagey swordfights and battle scenes. (There is a decent sword fight if you go in for that sort of thing.)

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