Playwright: William Shakespeare
At: Actors Revolution Theatre at Angel Island, 735 W. Sheridan
Phone: 773-209-5694; $20
Runs through: Aug. 17
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
If Richard III was Shakespeare's monarch-as-schoolyard shooter, then Richard II was his slacker—a spoiled frat boy concerned only with his own self-magnified complaints, pouting rather than raging at his downfall and provoking his final doom with a shrug and a 'whatever.' But director Robert G. Anderson and actor Jeff Radue are unafraid to play him as such, and THAT is what makes this Actors Revolution Theatre production, well, revolutionary.
Modern classroom protocol dictates that Shakespeare's Elizabethan verse be re-scored to prose tempo, lest audiences become lulled by its rhythm and meter. Anderson has instructed his players instead to emphasize the artifice, delivering their speeches in a heightened manner recalling Moliére while never allowing it to degenerate into Seussian doggerel. Contradicting this lofty tone, however, are characters rendered immediately recognizable by the deliberately quotidian spin imposed on the nobility's exercise of power over the nation ( as when the Duchess of York NAGS, not begs, Bolingbroke into sparing the life of her son ) .
From his first entrance, Radue's smirking dandy and his entourage of sycophants lend a droll tone ( think Martin Short ) to the proceedings. This carries over to John of Gaunt's deathbed declaration, with its multiple puns, and would infect even the solemn avowals in a chronicle narrated more in serial monologues than in an exchange of repartee, were it not for the oratory agility of the supporting cast, notably Jared Martzell and Scott Stangland as conspirators Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Sturdy performances are also delivered from Ian Forester as the wimpish Duke of Aumerle, Kathryn Daniels as the bewildered Queen Isabella and Karen Vacarro in a scene-stealing portrayal of the forthright Duchess of York.
Anderson's directorial duties may have forced him to neglect his stand-in duties as sound designer; the relentlessly contemplative music bridging the scenes, while lending intellectual distance ( as does the occasional moment played under Angel Island's work lights ) , sometimes grows annoying in its ironic mockery. But whatever else may be said of this fledgling company's unconventional approach to a classroom staple, its originality cannot be denied.