William Shakespeare’s Richard III is set during the tumultuous politics of the War of the Roses in 15th century England. For the half hour or so before the play begins the audience in IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre was treated to the tumultuous politics of the early 21st century with an unending rotation of Obama and Romney campaign ad claims.
The play is the IU Department of Theatre and Drama’s contribution to Themester 2012, “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior.” As he limps in, the leather clad Aaron Kirkpatrick announces that he’s going to be as solid a representative of bad behavior as we could imagine and then goes on to prove it. After killing her father and husband, he seduces Lady Anne, played with pathos by Courtney Lucien. After false protestations of brotherly affection he has his brother Clarence, a sympathetic Nathan Robbins, killed. He even has his most loyal supporter Buckingham, the eloquent Austin Wilson, killed. Being an enemy to Richard is dangerous, but being a supporter is just as perilous. Throughout the play Kirkpatrick’s Richard was alternately frightening, devious and even engaging. He’s a villain for all seasons.
Overseeing and commenting on the action was the potent Nicole Bruce as Queen Margaret, with her keen insights and angry speeches. She led a chillingly dramatic scene in the second act as she taught Lady Anne and Andrea Mellos, the widow of Edward IV, just how to level a curse on Richard.
In contrast with the darkness of Richard and the leather clad House of York, the victorious opposition House of Lancaster was more colorfully and lightly dressed. They were led by the cheerfully open faced Taylor Crousore as the future Tudor King Henry VII.
Director Gavin Cameron-Webb thinks of the warring Houses of York and Lancaster as gangs of thugs instead of royal personages. Costume designer Katie Cowan Sickmeier has quite a show with the varieties of gang style leather. Frankly, during much of the first act just trying to sort out the players was a daunting task. There are more than twenty actors, most playing two characters each in Richard III and the stenciling of the names on the jackets helped some. One that I do remember just for her nervous energy as she rubbed a set of brass knuckles was Jowi Estava as Lord Lovell. For a nice contrast the anonymous messengers and even the murderers are all in grey modern business attire.