Richard II was the final production of the Trinity Players' fifth season of professional theatre in Astoria. A quick trip on the N (or R) train was richly rewarded by an evening of explosive medieval pageantry, high-energy performances, and a warm, hometown atmosphere provided by Trinity's hardworking staff.
Richard II was the first of a canon of plays that included Henry IV 1 and 2, and Henry V. It is also the only one of Shakespeare's plays written entirely in verse. Shakepeare pits the frivolous King Richard II against the far stronger and cleverer Bolinbroke (later, Henry IV) in a power struggle with predictable results. After years of mismanagement of his kingdom, Richard is faced with the inevitability of his loss of power, and the extravagant, self-absorbed monarch comes off as surprisingly sympathetic. Although there is little to admire in the weak Richard, the wrenching separation from his wife, Queen Isabel (the marriage is obviously a love match for both) and his brutal death make him a truly tragic protagonist.
After a theatre season full of innovative takes on Shakespeare, it was fun to see the gorgeous velvet and brocade period costumes once again. Margaret E. Cabrera's fabulous creations and Bill Bradford's flattering lighting created a sumptuous ambience. Tom Cavalieri's basic set design was ideal - any more opulence would have detracted from the staging. Richard G. Brode's richly textured organ music was evocative of Richard's world and contributed to the reality and immediacy of the story
Director Anthony Patton and the talented ensemble were equal to the challenges of working entirely in verse, and with a few minor transgressions the cast avoided singsong delivery of the text. Kevin Hauver was a passionate, self-involved, totally likable Richard, flowing smoothly between inane chatter and touching bravery. His final scene was powerful and heartbreaking. Lee Wittenberg, a noble presence as Gaunt, rushed through the text without savoring the opportunities his character's language offered. Janet Geist was a magnificent gender-bent Bolingbroke; powerful and clear-voiced, imbued with glittering intelligence and humanity. Rebekah Oakes was glamorous, warm, and dignified as the tortured Queen Isabel. Jamie Cummings was an impassioned Duke of York, but was much too young to convey the monumentality this role requires. Tim Cooper's tall, powerful presence and deep, nuanced speaking voice made him an exceptional Northumberland. Alan Steele made a brief but commanding impression as Lord Bushy, one of Richard's cronies. Ayesha Hakeem as the Duchess of York was a commanding presence, although it took a leap of faith to believe the young, beautiful Hakeem was the old dowager she claimed to be. Ethan Aronoff was a handsome, spirited Mowbray, and Audrey Kelley contributed intelligent, focused work as Scroope.
With excellent support from Sarah Murphy, Brandy Mettert, Mistelle Comeau, Miranda Herbert, Bill Bradford, Ryohei Hoshi, Jessica Jolly, Gerti Lee James, Blair Bryan, and Bonny Scheltema.
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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern