Shakespeare took care not to load the deck for the title character of his "King Richard II." He created a briskly authoritative rival for Richard in Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke cuts through Richard's exquisite lyricism -- and Richard's narcissistic fantasies -- and succinctly shows the king how to operate in the real world.
Louis Scheeder did not take as much care in the casting of his Folger Theater production of "Richard II" as Shakespeare did in his writing. Michael Tolaydo's Richard is a triumph: firm and forceful yet still beguilingly romantic. But Terry Hinz's Bolingbroke acts as if he just walked off the set of "Gomer Pyle."
The program notes indicate that this production sees Richard as a strong ruler at the beginning of the play. Even though his ostracism of two warring dukes still seems capricious, it's not a bad idea to begin the play with a vital, effective Richard. His will diminishes so far during the course of the play that it's important to glimpse him in his prime as a king.
Tolaydo is completely up to the task. This is an actor who can convey power one minute and helplessness the next minute without floundering. He has thought out the intense confusion of his character so comprehensively that each wayward turn of Richard's befuddled brain becomes loaded with significance. Tolaydo is ever alert.
He is a spellbinder in the big scenes. Watch him dangling his crown like a carrot in front of the hopelessly outclassed Bolingbroke.
Unfortunately Bolingbroke should not be hopelessly outclassed. In Shakespeare's description of Bolingbroke's triumphant entry into London we are told that "all tongues cried 'God save thee, Bolingbroke.'" Then along came poor deposed Richard in the same parade, and "men's eyes did scowl." The character who is describing this grueling inaugural ceremony even compares Bolingbroke to "a well-graced actor" whose charisma is an impossible act to follow for the poor sucker stuck with the next spot on the show. This poor sucker, of course, is Richard.
It is difficult to think of Terry Hinz as "a well-graced actor." He has been quite funny in his comedy roles at the Folger, but he is not about to take the town by storm as a dynamic king. He speaks in singsong cadences and with an accent that produces words like "desolute." His eyes roll. His body stiffens when he's listening to others. Even when Bolingbroke is bidding a final adieu to his dying dad, Hinz looks as if it's just one of those days.
He is an actor made for everyday moments. And though Bolingbroke is supposed to have a common touch, he also should be an acutely sophisticated tactician who turns his everyday moments into capital gains.
Leonardo Cimino makes a haunting appearance in the first act as Bolingbroke's pa. But is it really necessary to draft him into double duty as the gardener in the second act? John Neville-Andrews shows up as one of the banished dukes in the first act and Richard's assassin in the end. This should warrant a 14th-century version of the Warren Commission.
Scott Johnson's set is effectively stark, with several imaginative touches in the second act that dramatize the descent and isolation of Richard. It's too bad some of the same imagination was not expended by Scheeder and company on Bolingbroke's position. Tolaydo's Richard is impressive enough to dominate the evening without benefit of such an easy target.