Many dastardly deeds are done, and much scenery is chewed in the Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Richard III,” which opened at TCU’s Hays Theatre on Friday.
The strongest aspect of this production of the Bard’s imagining of the brief (just over two years), but bloody reign of Richard III is Blake Hackler’s brilliant performance in the title role.
In past Trinity festivals, Hackler has excelled primarily in comic parts. But this production, directed by Stephen Brown-Fried, allows him to strut his stuff as a dramatic player with devastating effect.
His cool, calculating king, who reveals his true self only in the soliloquys that close many of the play’s scenes, sends chills up your spine with his coldblooded villainy.
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Hackler’s efforts are made more effective by how he is presented.
Historically, Richard’s famous physical deformities (a hunched back and a club foot) have been displayed to the point of caricature. But Hackler’s king has only a slight bump on his shoulder, and a limp that is assisted with a cane.
It is about the only understated element in the entire show, and it adds a lot.
Also contributing fine performances are J. Brent Alford (Buckingham), and the women of the various courts involved: Krista Scott (the Duchess of York), Lynn Blackburn (Elizabeth), Sarah Rutan (Margaret) and Kelsey Melbourn (Anne).
This production is presented on an often-bare stage and in the round (or, really, a square). Brown-Fried does an excellent job of using the space.
He also gives the play a relentless, driving pace. But be aware that this show, which is among the longest in Shakespeare’s canon, is still a three-hour investment.
Overall, the look and feel of this production is dark and intense. That is an unassailably valid approach to this play. There are few works ever created for the stage that are grimmer or more in-your-face than this one. But this production too often overstates its case in that regard. Most of the costumes, which reflect an early-20th century time setting, are black or some other somber shade. The actors shout a great deal. And the snippets of recorded music used to support the action are sometimes played so loudly that they drown out the dialog.
So there are some strong performances and several powerful moments in this production. But there also seem to be a lot of places where they could let Willy Shakes’ text do the heavy lifting, instead of just turning up the visual and aural volume for effect.