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Richard Termine

Druid’s ‘Richard III’

In the first moments of the Druid theater company’s Richard III at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater, a wraith-like female figure slinks across the stage, trailing tattered veils. This is the deposed and widowed Queen Margaret, a loser in Britain’s bloody Wars of the Roses. Her unscripted entry here suggests the curse she has placed, as we later learn, on the winners—the family of Richard of York, later King Richard. (Another unscripted moment will end this gripping production, a theatrical sock in the gut that viewers will not soon forget, much though they might want to.) As that curse is fulfilled, half a dozen corpses (give or take) will be slid, rolled, and ungently dumped into the tomb at the front of the stage, an abyss out of which Richard climbs, spider-like on spindly crutches, to speak the famous opening lines: “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

Those seeking a respite from the Trump impeachment drama may find solace in this play, a tale of far darker misdeeds and a far more brutal pursuit of power. Richard’s fascinating combination of self-love and self-loathing is ably portrayed here by Aaron Monaghan, glittering in a metal-studded leather jerkin that is part medieval prince, part Hell’s Angel. “Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass/That I may see my shadow as I pass,” he declaims, after miraculously winning the affection of Lady Anne, whom he has recently made a widow. The grotesque vanity of that couplet is complicated by the fact that the shadow, as Richard has earlier noted, reveals the outline of his deformity.

The wooing of Anne is one of this production’s stronger scenes, but stronger still is Richard’s cajoling of Queen Elizabeth, whom he has stripped of a husband and two sons, but whose daughter he now seeks to marry. Director Garry Hynes gives the scene the time and focus it deserves, as Richard blithely admits his grave misdeeds, but offers his victim political elevation, and new offspring, as recompense.  Richard’s hypnotic power, as played by Monaghan, lies in his candor and sincerity, qualities that evoke a perverse kind of admiration.

Not everything in this production succeeds or makes obvious sense. Occasional anachronisms—a butt of malmsey that resembles a metal beer keg rather than a wooden cask, an air-powered nail gun used in place of an executioner’s axe—seem gratuitous or misguided. The clownish costume and vacant manner of Catesby, Richard’s most loyal henchman, suggest a hobo from No Exit rather than a late medieval lord. Perhaps Hynes means to suggest that absurdist detachment is the best means of survival at a court like Richard’s, for Catesby is indeed one of its few survivors.

“The worst returns to laughter,” Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, and some moments in this Richard III are clearly meant to raise a laugh. The vein of dark humor running through this production may offend some purists. Others will find it a lively and welcome counterpoint to an otherwise bleak portrait of a political realm stripped of all moral value.

Category: Theater
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
524 W 59th St,
New York, NY