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The winter of our discontent made glorious summer – ‘Richard III’

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The winter of our discontent made glorious summer – ‘Richard III’ (photo courtesy Ten Bucks Theatre/Dan Hanchrow)

BREWER – The winter of our discontent shall be made glorious summer, courtesy of Ten Bucks Theatre Company.

TBT’s latest installment of their Shakespeare Under the Stars series is “Richard III,” which played last weekend in Brewer’s Indian Trail Park. Subsequent performances will take place at the Orono Public Library’s amphitheater (July 25-28) and at Fort Knox in Prospect (Aug. 1-4).

Directed by Daniel Hanchrow, it’s the story of one person’s twisted plan to usurp the British throne and their willingness to indulge in whatever vicious acts, terrible deceptions and base betrayals necessary to achieve that single-minded aim. Featuring fluid casting, stripped-down production values and some bold aesthetic choices, it’s a production that is both unique in the annals of TBT’s history with the Bard and very much of a piece with some of the big swings of Shakespeare past.

Seriously – with women cast in men’s roles (in a reversal of the tradition of Shakespeare’s day) and a visual palette inspired by the ‘90s gangster oeuvre of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Richie, this is outdoor Shakespeare the likes of which you don’t often see.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Angela Bonacasa) is on the outside looking in as brother Edward (Ron Lisnet) regains the English throne following the demise of King Henry VI. Twisted both physically and mentally, Richard thirsts for the power that comes with the crown. But it will take a complex plot for Richard to attain those sought-after heights.

The proper nuptial match is vital, so Richard seeks to woo Lady Anne (Aimee Gerow), the still-mourning widow of the recently-deceased Prince of Wales. Richard convinces Anne to allow the union, though Richard makes clear the fact that she will be disposed of as soon as her purpose is served. Richard also plots the demise of brother Clarence (Joseph Fisher), who stands ahead in the line of succession.

Meanwhile, court is a nest of vipers, the poison fed by Richard’s machinations. Despite warnings from Henry’s banished widow Queen Margaret (Bunny Barclay), the nobles close ranks around their own House of York. Queen Elizabeth (Julie Arnold Lisnet), her husband already taken ill, must also deal with the sinister whispers initiated by Richard.

With the help of a number of co-conspirators – the Duke of Buckingham (Jennifer Snow) chief among them, along with the clever deviousness of Sir William Catesby (Natalie Lisnet) and others – Richard quickly consolidates power, plotting the end of anyone who might prove an obstacle to that ascent to the throne. That plotting includes confining Edward’s sons Richard (Augi Baker) and Edward (Zane Baker) to the Tower of London, as well as an eagerness to rescind promises and tie up loose ends.

Through manipulation and murder, Richard assumes the throne, becoming Richard III. It isn’t long, however, before Richard’s hack-and-slash methodology comes back to haunt him. The ruthless intelligence of those early plans gives way to rampant paranoia. Those betrayed along the way seek to marshal forces of their own, leaving Richard with no one to trust when the time comes to take the field of battle.

This is only a thumbnail sketch of the intricacies of “Richard III,” one of Shakespeare’s most elaborately-plotted works. There is a LOT going on here, with the making and breaking of alliances and the multi-leveled schemes, all of it driven by the naked ambition and thirst for power of the Duke of Gloucester, one whose soul is just as horribly twisted as his body.

Capturing that twisted nature is a truly tall order – Richard III is one of the most difficult roles to play in all of Shakespeare. Not only must one find a way to embody that tortured physicality, one must also use it as a tool to bring forth the deep shadows of the villain’s soul. It’s a herculean task for any performer, but Bonacasa proves largely up to the task. She generates an outsized presence as she limps and stalks across the playing space, punctuating disdain with smug superiority and dismissive sneers. The gravitas she brings serves as a solid foundation for the tale being told.

That foundation serves as the base for a number of strong performances. Julie Lisnet provides Queen Elizabeth with the proper imperiousness, haughty and impassioned, while Gerow demonstrates her usual deftness with Shakespearean language and tone. Buckingham is a tough role – the Duke carries a lot of water for Richard – but Snow handles it adeptly; Natalie Lisnet grounds Catesby’s opportunism nicely.

(I’m going to go ahead and make a “Fabulous Baker Boys” joke here – real-life brothers Augi and Zane Baker handle themselves admirably, as does their father Travis, who enthusiastically handles multiple roles.)

Of course, this being Shakespeare, there are a whole lot of roles that need to be filled. And Baker’s hardly the only one pulling double/triple/whatever duty; the TBT ensemble handles it all rather admirably. Tamika Adjeman, Robyn Baker, Dave Barrett, Alison Cox, Dan Hanchrow, Ael Fitzgerald, Min Fitzgerald, Anna Kemble, Greg Littlefield, Kip Nelson, Sage Neptune, Nathan Roach and Holly Schreiber do the important and often thankless work of populating the world of the play. All do their duty, though there are some highlights – the vague menace of Schreiber’s Lord Stanley and the oily rage of Littlefield’s Lord Hastings spring to mind.

Hanchrow is a first-time director for Ten Bucks, though he’s no stranger to the Bard, with extensive Shakespeare experience (Shakespeare-ience?) in his background. The choice to go Tarantino-esque with the aesthetic is an interesting one; there are some striking visual moments to be had, though there are occasional clashes between look and feel over the course of the show. Regardless of the odd hiccup, however, kudos for making a bold choice. There are a lot of moving parts with a show like this, but Hanchrow keeps things paced nicely – this is a long one that doesn’t feel that long, which is a testament to the director.

As always, hats off to Ten Bucks Theatre for their unwavering commitment to creating outdoor summer theatre. The place they occupy in the region’s creative culture is a vital one; their passion and hard work is as evident as ever in this latest production. “Richard III” is another entry in the ledger of TBT’s love for the Bard – a truly worthwhile one.

Long live the king.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 July 2019 15:49

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