courtesy CU Presents/CSF
courtesy CU Presents/CSF

by Beki Pineda

RICHARD III – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Wendy Franz. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (University Theatre on the CU Boulder campus) through August 11.  Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or cupresents@colorado.edu.

The tale of Richard III is as twisted as he is usually portrayed – hunchback and all.  There are many interesting theories about why he has become one of Shakespeare’s most villainous characters when, in reality, he was no better nor no worse than those that preceded him or followed him. It must be noted that one of the playwright’s most valued patrons was Ferdinando Stanley, a direct descendant of Thomas and William Stanley who led the attack on Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Stanleys would have naturally wanted their ancestors to have been the heroes of any chronicle of that era and would equally have wanted to remind the existing monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, of their role in securing the monarchy for the Tudors. Shakespeare, like his contemporaries and modern day playwrights, depended on the good will of his sponsors for grants, licenses, and funds for productions. One way to please his sponsor was to make Richard III a really bad guy.

The script is written in such a concise style that it seems that Richard’s reign was even shorter than the two years he held the title. His death in 1485 means that when the play was written in 1593 (73 years later), Elizabeth I had been on the throne 35 years and the Stanley history was very much alive in the Court. It was a Stanley who had put the crown on the head of Henry Tudor ending the 331 year reign of the Plantagenets and securing the crown for the Tudors for the next 118 years.

So while it can be argued that Richard III is not the vilified character Shakespeare wrote, it still makes a good story.  Shakespeare was nothing if not a good story teller. In the play, Richard embodies the “whatever necessary” credo to achieve the throne including killing the husband and father-in-law of Lady Anne Neville and wooing her at the funeral by telling her, as a woman, she needed his protection. He probably had his own brother killed (Henry VI), two young princes (both Richard’s nephews) that could have threatened his heritage smothered, tried to marry his own niece, betrayed those who had worked to secure his reign, and earned a curse from his own mother. Now there’s a guy you love to hate. He is the embodiment of “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

However, as portrayed by the ever brilliant Rodney Lizcano, he is sly but witty, despicable but charming, and understandably ambitious. You as an audience member never get quite to the point of sympathizing with him, but it’s also hard to hate him. There was a lot of nervous laughter in the audience, as in “is it OK to laugh at the nasty thing he just said?”  It’s OK. Even Shakespeare’s most tragic scripts contain puns, jokes, word play meant to be humorous; he meant for us to laugh once and awhile.

As a whole, this is a strong production done well. While this is a predominantly masculine play, the women certainly held up their end of the proceedings. Anne Penner as the grieving Margaret, the power behind the throne of a previous King Henry VI; Lindsay Ryan as the coerced Lady Anne; Betty Hart as Elizabeth, the widow of the last King (Edward IV, Richard’s brother); and Leslie O’Carroll as Richard’s mother formed a quartet to be dealt with.  Fourteen of the men in the cast played multiple parts in order to flesh out the story and give it context.  While the real life lineage of the kings is hard to follow, the play moves smoothly with betrayals and politics made recognizable by this talented cast.

However, the night belongs to Rodney, as it should. His cajoling, pleading, devious Richard capers through the evening with a devilish gleam in his eye.

A WOW factor of 8!!