Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: A Simple Game of Power

Simplicity. Sometimes it's all you need to tell a story. In an age of an overabundant amout of Shakespeare companies, sticking out can be hard. But when the focus is on the text rather than the reimagining, that may be all you need to stick out. In Hamlet Isn't Dead's stripped down production of Richard II, the focus is on the language and the struggles of power.
Given a modern look with a gender, age, and ethnicity fluid lens, this Richard II is an examination of character. The first in Shakespeare's “Henriad”, the history chronicles King Richard II in his final years as he loses the thrown from a rebellion led by the banished Bolingbroke after proving his lack of ability. Directed by Emily C.A. Snyder, Snyder takes the game of power to the ultimate. With the focus on the characters rather than a fully realized concept, the text was the prime focused. This commitment had both its pros and cons. On the bright side, with the focus on the text, a captivating character study came to life. With a story that relies on significant character relationships, keying into the alliances allowed the richness to come to life. There was something striking about the straightforwardness in Snyder’s approach. That being said, the lack of cohesiveness in regards to where and when was a bit disappointing. With costumes as the only telling element, Shaina Kosloff’s modern approach felt more thrown together rather than unified.
The company as a whole proved their Shakespearean prowess. Led by Morgan Hooper and Robin Rightmyer as Richard II and Bolingbroke respectively, the battle was a glorious one to witness. Hooper exudes a nonchalant demeanor as Richard. Hooper brings an entertaining charm at the start but when his actions get the best of him, it’s his turn after his defeat that Hooper truly wins. Rightmyer’s Bolingbroke was a wonderful villain you loved to hate. Rightmyer has a knack for the words. Rightmyer created a character that transcended the text. The remainder of the company played an assortment of roles, jumping from character to character but there was one member of the cast that proved her ability not only to tackle the Bard’s words with ease but create a memorable character with each turn. Kineta Kunutu was astonishing and believable. With a range of roles from John of Gaunt to the Duchess of York, Kunutu never faltered. Other strong utility players included the strong willed Alice Qin and the captivating Nathan Luttrull.
When it comes to staging Richard II, Emily C.A. Snyder relied on fluidity. With only a gold painted chair to represent a throne and a coffin serving as everything from its original use to a platform to vaunt, Snyder subscribed to rarely moving them around. With the space having limited options of where to enter and exit, Snyder tried her best to slam into each scene with little space in between. But when there was air, it proved the need for some sort of transition sound. That being said, the preshow music, which featured hits like Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back” and Muse’s “Uprising, that created the ambiance was on point and perfect.
The Shakespeare histories may not be as loved as some of the big hits of the canon but when there’s an opportunity to hear it for what it is, Richard II is more than just the set up play. Hamlet Isn’t Dead’s production has its ups and downs but as a whole it is a prized production.