Often we struggle to be heard, to be recognized.
In this production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, directed by Dr. Lindsey Snyder, Richard is not depicted in the usual interpretation, but rather, reinterpreted as a Deaf Man who struggles to be heard in his own family. This way, Richard (Ethan Sinnott) uses this as a motivation to ascend to the English Throne, so he could be heard.
The images presented in the production are bold. From the very first few moments of the play, where Richard is trying to keep track of what’s going on and he begins to “perform” the opening monologue in his own language, Sign Language, only to be ignored by the court as they disperse, Richard futilely tries to command attention from the court, then is left alone to “perform” his soliloquy, with a ghastly portrait (Daniel Corey) giving Richard his voice, I thought this was a brilliant solution and a departure from the usual practice of having a person voice from offstage .
The deep divide in communication, is evident throughout the whole play. The divide creates more tensions for the final act of the English Civil War, Richard is accompanied by a shadow (Corey/Lauer) who voices for Richard, and the others in his court, respond using the only language they know, the spoken language. Rachel Mulford’s performance as Lady Anne, was so enthralling to watch, in the infamous wooing scene, there were so much force at work between the two, I was absorbed in the performance as I feared for Lady Anne.
Marilyn Bennett gives a compelling performance as the composed Duchess of York, as she curses Richard for the murders of his own brothers, and as a comforter to Queen Elizabeth (Kashner) as she comes to terms with the murders of the Princes, and composes herself to curse Richard for the unjustly death of her son. Kashner’s performance was so compelling to the point where I wanted to also comfort Elizabeth in grieving for the princes. Mary Suib was perfectly cast for Margaret of Anjou, as if the role was written for her, I could not help but smirk as she cursed the entire court. Her sharp-tongued performance served her well as she curtly reminded Richard that she had no more sons left for him to murder.
Daniel Corey’s gentle natured Richmond easily won my support once I could see the contrast between the two. Snyder also had Corey voice for Richard as his shadow, which served as a brilliant device for the scene that took the night before the big battle; I enjoyed the bit where the shadow accompanied him in signing “Guilt.” Davis’ Buckingham was interesting character to watch; however, I had a hard time connecting to him perhaps it was because I was torn between the stage and the interpreters, but I did like the moment where he confronted Richard shortly before his murder.
The only people that Richard is able to converse so freely are the henchmen and murderers, who he has hired to help him clear the way to the throne. Charlie Ainsworth’s performance as James Tyrell struck several chords in the heart, as I sympathized with his plight, and he also reminded us that there is a drop of humanity in each person, whether they are bloody murderers or corrupted rulers.
Ben Lauer’s performance as the murderer and Cathesby truly impressed me as I noted as he was the only hearing character that truly conversed in Sign with Richard, Tyrell and his fellow murderer, portrayed by Sandra Mae Frank. I understand the purpose of determining which characters sign and which characters did not, I would have liked to see a varying level of signing to reflect the level/strength of the connection/relationship between the said character and Richard. One character truly stood out from the ensemble of the court – Frank’s Princess Elizabeth nary spoke a line, but her presence, although silent but it made me wonder, “What was she thinking at certain moments?” I was captivated at how the murders were carried out in silence, as if their tongues were robbed of the ability to place blame on Richard.
I am giving this production 5 out of 5 stars because as a Deaf person, I understand the challenges that arise from having a mixed production with two separate languages involved and the preparations required to execute such production. I see room for growth in this production. I want to take the time to thank Nextstop Theatre Company for taking the bold step of sponsoring this production. I sincerely hope this will become a pebble that creates a ripple effect!
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.