Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Folger Theater Group Monday night unveiled a staging of "Richard III" in which its parent, the Folger Shakespeare Library, can take a deal of pride.
Director Louis Scheeder has corralled an exceptionally large, able cast for his small theater has been tight with his cuts and generous with details. The play is pesky to stage, especially those final fight scenes which, since the dawn of film, have become more ritual than excitement.
Above all the production is strengthened by a strikingly well-though-out Gloucester, the ducal conniver who becomes Richard III. Paul Collins has made choices that are both intelligent and arresting in his delineation of a character so blackened by Shakespeare that a gallant society, the Friends of Richard III, long and fruitlessly has been trying to redeem what Elizabeth Tudor's propagandist play wright blackened so brilliantly.
As the program note by John F. Andrews, editor of the Shakespeare Quarterly, observes, "Richard seems, and would have seemed to Shakespear's first audiences, a conventional, even old-fashioned stage villain."
Collins has had the wit to avoid this. From his entrance he assumes not a ranting, scene-schattering tone but one of confidential conversation. His voice is light in texture, almost whipers. What he tells us about himself is sardonic. It does not matter that he is not really hunchbacked, only limps a little and has a withered arm. What matters is that Gloucester thinks he's hopelessly deformed.
In his confidential asides, Collins prelessly deformed.
In his confidential asides, Collins presses this gently as his motivation for what is to come . As bystander he has observed others well and is astonished at their credulity. When others are around, Collins' Richard assumes a kind of Uriah Heep modesty.
Though their words accuse Richard of his villainy, their faces, confronted with Richard-Uriah, suggest why he manages to get away with his constant lies. There is just the tiny shadow of a doubt in their minds that, maybe, they have misjudged him.
This is an immense help to the playing and to the story line. Collins never fails to make his asides to us subtly different from his conversations with others.
Further, the women's roles have been exceptionally well cast and what fine parts there are: Mad Margaret, left over from the Henry VI plays (like Hollywood, Shakespeare was a master of sequels and prequels), is well done by Dale Hodges. The great scene at her father-in-law's coffin finds Elaine Bromka's Lady Anne receiving Gloucester's proposal of marriage with heady, baffled acceptance, Mikel Lambert's Queen Elizabeth and June Hansen's Duchess of York and finely voiced and well-fused.
While there is some doubling for the 35 roles, it is quite inconspicuous and major parts are done with assurance by Peter Vogt, John Neville-Andrews, David Cromwell, Eic Zwemmer, John Hertzler and Albert Corbin.
William Penn's music, used largely during brief scene shifts, is markedly effective to set ensuing moods, and Hugh Lester's setting and lighting make fine use of the Folger's handsome wooden stage and pillars.There's been an effort at impressionism for the final battle scenes, which can't easily be omitted for that would kill Richard's "My Kingdom for a horse!" line.
Coming as it does early in the Shakespeare canon, "Richard III" gives hints of poetry, characterizations and finer plays to come. Wisely, Scheeder treats "Richard III" as one of the great ones and the result is a finer production than the Folger usually manages for its patron saint.