People’s Light stages a ‘Richard III’ attuned to the times

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For Digital First Media

Which King Richard will we get tonight?
Will it be the unflinchingly evil Richard III Shakespeare likely intended in his 1592 play, the seductively scheming monster murdering his way to the throne, the “deform’d, unfinish’d” prince who critic Kenneth Tynan found “though not a
desirable earthly ruler….would make an ideal viceroy of Hell.”
Or will it be one of the modern interpretations, a miniscule Richard lite, a petty, nasty, self-satisfied takeover artist whose “conscience hath a thousand several tongues” and is more like one of your former bosses at work – a man who does not
fully deserve the title villain.
It’s pretty clear from the first moment (which is also Richard’s last moment) of the new homegrown production of Richard III at People’s Light in Malvern that we are in fact getting something new.
Though the time is supposed to be now and the place “closer than you know” it seems we dwell in a twilit purgatory for the ambitious.

What: Richard III
Where: People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern on their Steinbright Stage.
When: Now through April 24.
Info.: For tickets go to peopleslight.org or call 610-644-3500.

Neither a traditional nor modern dress production it’s Mad Rich, in a familiar filthy post-apocalyptic jacket and leather accessories, limping with his KAFO leg brace through the modern Wasteland of a failed civilization, armed only with a hammer, wits and an attitude instead of a sawn-off shotgun, calling for a horse in the climactic battle instead of an armored 18-wheeler.
Reminiscent in its clanging military grimness of the 1995 film version that starred Ian McKellen but without that film’s royal glitter and costuming, director Samantha Reading has created a version and vision of a Richard more attuned to our immediate future than to the 16th or 20th centuries.
There’s appropriately harsh metallic music by sound and set designer Jorge Cousineau, but the sounds that become most familiar are the swish of falling blades and the thump of severed heads hitting the ground accompanied by the relentless sound of Richard’s own voice, in turns cajoling, whispering, snarling and — surprisingly — inspiring, at least to other ambitious people.
What has kept Shakespeare’s Richard popular is how he draws the audience in, makes them enjoy his scheming as much as he does although they’re well aware of the consequences of that complicity.
It would be easy to say Barrymore Award winner Pete Pryor effortlessly embodies Richard in this vigorous interpretation, except he’s got a lot of heavy lifting to deliver all the shuffling, twitching and snarling audiences have come to expect from bad Richard. Pryor manages the taxing physical performance very ably while showcasing brilliantly those all-too-contemporary moments of political and family schmoozing and bartering interspersed with frank monologues and intricate conspiracies that characterized the War of the Roses between the rival houses of York and Lancaster that led to the rise of Tudor dynasty.

Pete Pryor in a scene from "Richard III." Photo by Paola Nogueras

Pete Pryor in a scene from “Richard III.”
Photo by Paola Nogueras

Pryor’s Richard is aided and abetted but not overshadowed by the formidable Christopher Patrick Mullen as the Duke of Buckingham. Mullen keeps his own considerable ability as a swashbuckler under tight control, much as the historic Buckingham (or anyone trying not to lose his head) might have done.
Buckingham’s clever but not obsequious interventions on the behalf of his despicable patron have in some productions taken over some scenes but Mullen’s scruffy minor-key collaborations with the monstrous Richard make the two fit together like a set of very oily gears.
Carl Clemons-Hopkins in his first appearance at People’s Light brings an impressive basso-profondo voice and unbreakable, imperturbable solidity to the key roles of Henry, Earl of Richmond, Earl Rivers and others.
Eight long time company members who are stars in their own right including Alda Cortese, Peter DeLaurier, Steven Novelli and Mary Elizabeth Scallen once again perfectly weave themselves together in supporting roles as queen, noblemen and women, Richard’s supporters and assassins, and, of course, the mob. Margaret Ivey as Lady Anne, the widow of the murdered Prince Edward is both strong and pitiable
in the unenviable assignment of being wooed by Richard almost literally over her husband’s dead body, one of many corpses bagged and dragged across the stage in this brilliant piece of theatrical propaganda.

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