Advance Tickets Recommended
Samuel Barnett, Liam Brennan, Paul Chahidi, John Paul Connolly, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Kurt Egyiawan, Matt Harrington, Colin Hurley, Terry McGinity, Mark Rylance, Matthew Schechter, Hayden Signoretti, Jethro Skinner, Joseph Timms, Angus Wright, Dominic Brewer, Dylan Clark Marshall, Tony Ward
1, 2, 3, 7, N, Q, R, S at Times Sq.-42nd St.; B, D, F, M at 47th-50th Sts.-Rockefeller Center
||Every Wed, 8pm; Sat, 2pm|
| Thru 2/16 |
| Twelfth Night
at Belasco Theatre
As presented here, the play is a compelling curiosity. Mark Rylance is the comic engine of Richard III, but the success of that unusual choice is equivocal. Certainly Richard is amused by his own depravity; after murdering Lady Anne’s husband and father, and prettily getting her to marry him anyway, he instantly gloats: “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? / Was ever woman in this humour won?” But Rylance takes from such cues an idea of Richard as a grotesque glad-hander, an audience whisperer of Al Jolson proportions. He grubs for laughter, plays up his self-pitying streak as a ruse we are all in on. He’s perfectly happy to pimp his deformity, here rendered as a slightly warped leg and a tiny withered hand hanging from a palsied wrist like a brace of deflated balloons. You may think of Kristen Wiig’s demented Dooneese Boylan character.
One result of this vaudeville turn is that the gravity of Richard’s deeds is often flattened by his charismatic self-presentation. When he orders the death of Prince Edward and the Duke of York, two little boys who threaten his legitimacy, you feel no horror. But then horror as we now understand it is not apparently part of “original practice.” The head of Hastings, severed from the rest of that Lord, is merely a mannequin part, a toy; the ghosts in Richard’s nightmare look in their winding sheets about as threatening as ears of white corn. There isn’t even any blood shed in the climactic swordfight: Richmond daintily threads his sword between plates of Richard’s armor as if he were lacing poultry.
It’s a great thing that the production abjures clichés. I was particularly happy to escape the recently standard interpretation of Richard as a Hitler prototype, as seen in the 2012 production starring Kevin Spacey that was sometimes referred to as Scream III. But the idiosyncratic choices made instead sometimes seem random or unmoored. To demonstrate Richard’s increasing madness, Rylance does things like suck Lady Anne’s fingers, whether trying to revive or eat her we cannot say. At another point he wipes the sweat off of an assassin’s bald head and licks it. Is he sodium-deprived? In emphasizing the character’s grotesqueness instead of his cunning, he robs the play of what little logic it possesses. (Why does anyone ever believe such an obvious nutcase?) And the Globe style, so invigorating to Twelfth Night, enervates Richard III. It does not allow Shakespeare’s longueurs to be finessed with distracting stagecraft or, for that matter, judicious trimming. With the houselights left on most of the time, the play is ruthlessly exposed. I submit that’s a good thing. We need to strip our idols from time to time, and see them plain.