The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater has been a small gem in New England since it started in 1971. It’s back after a long hiatus, once again led by founding artistic director Bob Colonna. (Having been "raised" theatrically by Bob and TRIST from a hardworking backstage young’un into an adult, theater-mad me, I consider this small gem my personal treasure.) After an outdoor production of As You Like It last summer, TRIST heads indoors to the Roots Art and Cultural Center in Providence with Richard the Third.
Perhaps you know him—guy with the hump or the limp or the useless arm, bitter and villainous. Everyone between him and the throne of England falls like dominoes, including the little princes in the Tower. Neither political machinations nor the best curses in Shakespeare can stop him. When the future Henry VII arrives, the "bottled spider" screams away his kingdom for a horse in a hopeless battle for the crown.
But TRIST’s Richard, played with balance and nuance by Bobby Casey, is not creepy-crawly. In a neat gray suit and glasses, he comes off as the quintessential 21st-century villain: a banker. A mortgage lender. Pick your poison. And there is nothing twisted about his body or his villainy; Richard wants to acquire all possible power, through whatever means, because that is what you do. That’s what it’s all about. Betrayal, manipulation, and murder are tools he picks up and puts down with ease. When he begins to crack under heavy nightmares, he fully reveals an emotional groundlessness at the heart of the character Casey has created. His pre-battle speech to the troops sounds like an election-night concession, when authority exists only until the last word of the speech. As the TRIST program says, "Does Richard the Third have any relevance today? Probably. But we’re primarily out to entertain you…" Yes, very probably, with this take on "the bloody dog" of a king. And yes, thank you, you primarily did.
I love the way costumes work in a set-less production. It frees the costumes to coordinate with character rather than with time, place, and scenery. The contemporary costumes help articulate the large cast, including street punk henchman, an otherworldly former queen maddened by grief, and the nouveau riche, high-end-suburban-mall king and queen whom Richard brings down as he goes up. With the costumes as our only visual signifiers, we open ourselves to understanding the characters, a rich tapestry in Richard the Third. Rosanna Cavanaugh as Queen Elizabeth, Rob Roy as Lord Hastings, Leann Heath as Lady Anne, and Christopher Ferreira and David Kane as, respectively, "the Cat and the Rat" are just some of the fine cast. Superbly edited by Colonna, the two-hour play is direct, accessible, and enjoyable.
It runs through this Sunday, November 18. Friday and Saturday, 7pm and Sunday at 2pm, Roots Art and Cultural Center, 276 Westminster Street, Providence. Tickets $12. Call 401 331-6118.