“Now is the winter of our discontent.” This famous line uttered by the bloody king (and we all know what proceeds therein) in one of Shakespeare’s great bloody tragedies Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. But The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is moving the gory tyrant not only out of the Shakespearean era – to World War I – but their unique presentation involves a mobile audience that creates a disturbingly intimate format at their appropriately chosen dark and ominous venue. A decaying ruins now preserved by the county, The Bard’s bloody drama is being launched in what was once an antebellum finishing school for girls. Set against the setting sun and moving well into the darkness of night it’s the perfect location for the dreary drama to unfold.
A precautionary heads up: you will want to dress in warm layers as the evening can get quite chilly, and wear comfortable socks and shoes as you will be moving about quite a bit. Director Ian Gallanar has made a terrific use of the entire park, staging scenes both inside the ruins of the main building as well as out on the grounds. Such a staging allows for the audience to intimately follow Richard’s progression as he traitorously takes to the throne. he play begins with the sinking sun providing the last hours of daylight and as the production grow more gruesome and darker in nature the sky follows suit, marking a passage of time in a unique fashion the helps you experience Richard’s journey more thoroughly.
The amazing thing about this production is that you can see it and have a vastly different experience from someone else seeing it on the same night depending on where you chose to sit or stand as you are moved through the scenes. Some scenes are played in the lower level of the ruins with viewing available from the balcony or directly in the pit of play. Other scenes offer vantage points through the high-wall windows of the striking stone tower; it’s your choice as you are guided through from scene to scene.
There is even a point where the audience is guided through a portion of the ruins to watch a scene as it plays out, forced along to not witness the most grotesque moment of the play; the slaughter at the tower. This moment takes on the feel of a tasteful haunted house as you are marched past the scene and into the next area where the players await.
The members of CTC have no trouble battling with the elements. Director Gallanar in conjunction with text coach Teresa Castracane ensure that every word is heard and well-projected throughout the performance. There are vast spaces with high walls and broken walls that open up into the night sky where sound could easily be gobbled up by the elements, but there is never an issue in regards to hearing what the characters are saying. And all of the principle performers impart a great deal of emotion to their vocal intonations so that even if as an audience member you aren’t familiar with Shakespearean jargon, you’ll understand what’s being said.
The supporting cast is sensational and to list them all and their wondrous feats would make this review run as long as the play itself. The pair that possess deeply frightening levels of haunted macabre stand out in my mind. Catesby (Jonas David Grey) stalks the premises like a man possessed; devoted to Richard in a way that is most eerie. Tyrrell (John Thomas Miller) has similar levels of spine-tingling villainy that make you shudder just to look upon him. When Miller arises from the tower after a scene of bloody slaughter his eyes are haunted with a descent into madness that literally give you goosebumps.
Descriptive imagery was never more aptly expressed than with the harrowing nightmare described by George Duke of Clarence (Ron Heneghan). Alone in his cell with the fear of death in possession of his voice he recounts the terrifying nightmare of his misfortune upon waking; lingering over each vivid image with a notion of terror lingering in his body as well, painting a retched picture for all who are listening. Heneghan’s ethereal resurgence at the end of the show is equally as haunting.
Despite being a man’s play we find two emotionally strong women portraying equally strong characters in the performance. Lady Anne (Lizzi Albert) is a ferociously scorned woman, lamenting the loss of her husband with a bitter vicious tongue toward Richard. Her emotionally charged slander radiates through her body when she stares him down cursing his existence for all he’s done. Equally fiery in her plight is Queen Elizabeth (Lesley Malin) who maintains a tight lid on her emotions until the pinnacle breaking point and erupts with the fury and sorrow of a woman scorned the likes of which hell hath never seen. Both of these females hold their own and measure up to perfection in a cast otherwise dominated by males.
And then the bloody tyrant himself, the leader of the show, Richard Duke of Gloucester (Vince Eisenson). Despite the character’s grotesquely misshapen figure, Eisenson crafts a formidable and villainous portrayal of the conniving blood-thirsty king. His brash and pushing scene with Lady Anne is driven by an unnaturally obsessive lust for the widow, creating an intense quarrel between the two. Eisenson creates a cleverly veiled arrogance delivering it through well placed moments of confident victories and smarmy triumphs. His character delves deep into levels of sordid evils of the worst variety, creating a truly heinous creature, deformed in his soul as he is in his body.
The physical approach to the character is astounding. Eisenson never loses sight of his crippled arm or his hunched stature; remaining ever-present of these conditions as he moves throughout the performance relying heavily on his walking stick. Delivering the text with a true and passionate understanding of the goals he’s attempting and accomplishing as well as the motives behind each of his actions, this brilliant actor does the bloody king a justice well deserving of a standing ovation.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes, with one intermission.
Richard III plays through October 28, 2012 at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park located at 3691 Sarah’s Lane in Ellicott City. For parking and directions click here. Tickets may be reserved by calling the box office at (410) 313-8661, or by purchasing them online.