Peter Dinklage can’t do enough to save Peter DuBois’ “ Richard III”
From every appearance, with the casting of Peter Dinklage as Shakespeare’s most conniving king in “Richard III,” director Peter DuBois figured his job was done. In fact, with the exception of some of Mr. Dinklage’s performance, the entire production is lackluster and careless, giving the impression of having been thrown together at the last minute.
Dinklage can be loud and imposing, which is evidently supposed to surprise us, and he can be sexually aggressive and appealing, but Richard’s blind , all-consuming lust for the throne eludes him. The production at the Public Theatre has come with publicity that suggests that because Dinklage is a dwarf, he inherently understands Richard, who was deformed. But the role demands that Dinklage offer more to sustain the evening.
The lack of fully fleshed-out dimensions colors every aspect of the production. The set is dominated by a carpet of blood red, the costumes are the generic mixed-period mess that audience members might mistake for “classical,” and the lighting seems to have been done with whatever was hanging in the space—with some red gels added.
The performances by the rest of the company are generally flat. Kali Rocha as Lady Anne in particular turns in a dreary performance as a woman whose father was murdered by Richard but whom she then marries. In the wooing scene, known by acting students the world over for its scenery chewing potential, Richard pursues Anne over the corpse of her father. In DuBois’ version, the scene’s barbarism was totally lost by Rocha at times seeming to lounge on the corpse as if it were a daybed. Isa Thomas is strident as Margaret, Richard’s mother, and even Roberta Maxwell as the Duchess of York moves around the stage as though she’d rather not be bothered.
Ty Burrell as Buckingham gives the production some life, but he is bogged down by the predictable and static staging, which includes at the end some energetic if uninspired fight scenes choreographed by Rick Sordelet.
Richard III was not a nice fellow by anyone’s account, but he did have “the vision thing” down—put aside for the moment that it was demonic and self-serving. It’s a shame that DuBois has so fallen short on vision, creating a kind of theatrical entropy and a confirmation of Yeats’ observation that without guidance, things really do fall apart.
Things fall apart in the plays of Bryony Lavery, only they tend to be the characters rather than the productions. Her new play “Last Easter,” is no exception. As with last year’s “Frozen,” Lavery’s characters here come up against what would seem to be insurmountable tragedy and must continue to live—untimely death from cancer as compared to child abuse and murder in “Frozen.” In her plays, death is easy; it’s living that takes guts.
June is a lighting designer who is in second stage cancer. Her friends, Lean, a prop designer Joy an over-the-top actress, and Gash a gay performance artist are all, suffice it to say, masters of illusion—and self-delusion—and are vastly more at home in the “let’s pretend” world of the theater than in dealing with real life.
The brilliant set by Hugh Landwehr reflects this. It is a giant prop closet, crammed with everything one needs to create the semblance of a life—but whose life and what to pull out of it? That’s the question asked of each of the characters. Unfortunately, there is no salvation to be gained in the prop room, whether drowned in alcohol or even interpreted through the great Judy Garland, and even the trip to Lourdes turns out to be more of a performance––even if also a penance––than a cure. What Lavery exposes are our coping mechanisms, our desires to cling to something that will be sturdy and lasting, and yet none of the characters finds the peace each is seeking until able to let go.
Veanne Cox gives a wonderful performance as June. She is deeply sardonic and at the same time charming. Her June is neither melancholy nor self-indulgent but someone who battles with hope, despair and acceptance of her inevitable fate. Jeffrey Carlson as Gash demonstrates once again that he is an actor who can find great subtlety within a somewhat stock fag role. He is an actor who pays attention to details, which makes Gash a mass of pretensions and insecurities and longing probably unachievable in lesser hands. Clea Lewis also takes what could be a fairly stock part—the dry wit behind the scenes (in the tradition of Eve Arden)—and gives Leah a vulnerability and insecurity that consistently feels real. Florencia Lozana as Joy is hilarious and crass, trying to self-medicate away any reality she can’t simply overlook.
The direction by Doug Hughes is remarkable for its freshness and wit. As with “Frozen,” there is a drive beneath “Last Easter” that is very human and real and engages the audience throughout. It is at once madcap and mournful to the point that one is never quite sure until the end if the characters will go on—or fall apart.
Speaking of madcap with a capital “M,” Sourceworks Theatre has created the first New York revival of Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party.” It’s a kind of “Gidget and Mr. Hyde” with a plot too ridiculous to recount—a mixture of “Mommie Dearest,” “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “The Three Faces of Eve.” Director Mark Cannistraro has captured the zany, innocent and campy fun of the show with appropriately cheesy staging and a knockout cast of very talented young performers led by Michael Conte as Chicklet, the girl who’ll do anything to be part of the in crowd. The show is as kooky as ever, and Busch’s antic goofiness (that’s Busch with a “c”) is very welcome right now.