Bare Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” satisfyingly completes the history of England’s War of the Roses, begun last summer with its outdoor staging of the three Henry VI plays condensed into one. Inside the intimate Sonorous Road Theatre, this final part allows a strong cast to explore the consequences created by a leader whose lies and manipulations go unchecked for too long.
As usual, it’s best to be familiar with the characters (31 in this version) and the plot (the defeated House of Lancaster and the reigning House of York). That will help here because some of the 19 actors play double roles, with women often playing male roles. The intriguing “Mad Max”-style costuming can also make it difficult to keep some characters identified.
Of course, Richard dominates the play, both in the role’s length and its cold-bloodedness. Seth Blum makes Richard a very laid-back, casual villain, all the more frightening in his gallows humor and cocky confidence. His direct engagement with the audience slyly cajoles it into collusion with his machinations. At Saturday’s performance, Blum often struggled for lines, blunting some of his power, but he made the most of several big confrontation scenes.
The first, Richard’s seduction of Lady Anne as she tends her dead husband’s body, is intensely played out, Maxine Eloi beautifully handling Anne’s transition from scorn to surprise to acquiescence. The last one, Richard’s attempt to get Queen Elizabeth’s approval to marry her daughter, is a riveting battle, Maggie Lea’s queen deeply moving but unmoved in her resolve to thwart Richard.
In between, there are many fine characterizations, especially Ben Apple’s loyal Buckingham, Noelle Barnard Azarelo’s bold Richmond and Aneisha Montague’s threatening Tyrrel. And, as always, Rebecca Blum makes the audience hang on her every word as the crazed, put-upon Queen Margaret.
Director Lucinda Danner Gainey keeps the action moving, despite the production’s three hours, the bare stage and plain lighting allowing her able cast to conjure the settings and atmosphere. The performers know what their lines mean and most enunciate clearly, although some speak too naturally or in too clipped a manner to be fully understood, even in such close quarters.
Bare Theatre’s staging style might not please traditionalists but it can make new converts to Shakespeare because of its unstuffy, energetic approach.
What: “Richard III,” presented by Bare Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12, 18-19; 2 p.m. Nov. 13, 20
Where: Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh
Tickets: $18 (seniors/military $15; students $10)
Info: 919-803-3798 or baretheatre.org