By Kelly Hanson
William Shakespeare’s Richard III is a masterpiece rife with intrigue, violence, and dark humor. Undertaking such a complicated and beloved production is a bold choice, and Britches and Hose Theatre Company rises to the challenge beautifully under the direction of Megan Fraedrich. Superb acting from all angles and fresh takes on the famous characters will enchant seasoned Shakespeare fans, while calculated blocking and a live score lend a cinematic quality that will appeal to first-time viewers.
Although Richard III features an array of fascinating characters, a production’s success hinges on the titular role: the charming, Machiavellian duke whose bloody rise to power and subsequent downfall have thrilled audiences for centuries. Few actors can do justice to this legendary villain, but Spencer Pilcher’s interpretation of the cunning usurper is at once chilling and charismatic. As he plots his dastardly schemes aloud, Pilcher often steps down from the stage and makes eye contact with audience members, subtly breaking the fourth wall and creating a sense of intimate confidence. His range as an actor is remarkable; at times his booming voice fills the space with frightening passion, yet at others he cajoles allies and feigns innocence so charmingly that even the audience, despite knowing his evil plans, is nearly convinced. Most impressive, however, is the fact that Pilcher manages to make Richard III feel human. His whirlwind of betrayal and brutality is punctuated by rare moments of genuine vulnerability. At these times, the audience cannot help but wince with pity for the man, despicable though he is.
Though Pilcher’s Richard is at the center of the action, the entire cast matches his excellence; even comparatively small roles are played with such passion and talent that there are truly no insignificant characters. Stephanie Oden is electrifying as Richard’s unfortunate first wife, Lady Anne Neville – in the course of a single scene, she progresses from grief to fury to contempt to eventual surrender, and does so with remarkable passion and tenderness. Sarah Pfanz gives a delightfully intense performance as the unhinged Queen Margaret. Kerry Kaleba is a powerful and self-assured Duchess of York.
Similarly, Robert Heinly brings dignity and emotion to an ailing Edward IV. Brakenbury (Leandra Lynn) commands many laughs with his dry humor, which is a refreshing take on the character and provides much-needed levity during his grim scenes. The Duke of Buckingham (Jeff Elmore) is tremendously entertaining – he is portrayed as foppish, simpering, and flamboyant in life, but takes a dark turn when he returns as a ghostly apparition, lolling his head in a gruesome nod to his death by guillotine. Michael Angeloni portrays an earnest and likable Lord Rivers, and his emotional death scene is sure to give you chills.
The two youngest cast members, Robbie Albritton and Sarah Schettini, are double-cast as a pair of murderers and the juvenile Princes Edward and Richard. Both pairs are an absolute delight to watch, forming distinct characters that interact with humor and warmth. The young princes, in particular, will charm audiences with their wordplay and good-hearted innocence – which makes Richard’s betrayal of his young charges utterly gut-wrenching. In a production teeming with horrifying murder scenes, theirs is the most affecting of all.
Emotions run high throughout this show, but perhaps the most poignant scene features Queen Elizabeth (Brianna Lau) receiving Richard’s suit of her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (Ariana Colligan). Audiences will feel her horror, as she is fully aware of his previous murders of her husband and two sons (among many others). Richard freely admits to these crimes even while requesting the princess’s hand in marriage, and Lau depicts a woman nearly paralyzed by fear, grief, and disgust. Lau’s Elizabeth is masterfully executed throughout the play, but this scene is her best. It is sure to inspire tears.
Unique touches bring this production to life; for one, a helpful family tree is projected above the stage to show the connections between Richard’s kinsmen. This chart updates as the characters therein are married or killed. Even more impressive is the live, original score performed by harper (the term for one who plays a Celtic harp) Diana Dzikiewicz. Dzikiewicz’s music is spellbinding and ramps up the emotion in every scene. Costumes by Shirley Taur establish the setting and highlight the personalities of the characters.
A compelling and touching director’s note in the program not only provides historical background, but also explains Fraedrich’s personal connection to the play. However, even before reading this note, audiences will feel her love for the text; it is evident in every detail of this visionary production.
Running Time: 3 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Richard III plays January 31, February 1, and February 7 at 8 pm, and Saturday, February 8 at 4 pm at The Vine Church Graham Road Campus, 2929 Graham Road, Falls Church, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $15, or $10 for students, seniors, and military personnel with ID.
George, Duke of Clarence/Tyrell, Daniel Rinehart; Lord Hastings/Captain Blunt, Dave Seidman-Joria; Princess Elizabeth, Wendy Briggs; Lord Stanley, Connie Ramsey; Queen Margaret/Ghost of Prince (February 1 only), Betsy Ryan; Catesby, Chris Shea; Ratcliff, Dan Clark; Archbishop/Lord Mayor, Karyn Jordeuil; Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond/Guard, Richard Chancellor.
Assistant Director, Arielle Seidman-Joria; Stage Manager, Rachael Dickson; Fight Choreographer/Technical Director, Dan Clark; Makeup Technicians, Karyn Jordeuil and Leandra Lynn.