pence cents worth: a must see!
|Two Pence Theatre presents|
Review by Anuja Vaidya
There is no drama like family drama. And if the family happens to be quarreling over the throne of England, well, that just makes it all the more gripping. Shakespeare’s Richard II recounts the story of said King, his downfall and consequently the rise of his cousin, the future King Henry IV. The Two Pence Theater Company effectively transports us back to 14th century England, to watch as Richard’s world crumbles around him.
Richard II rules by divine right, or so he believes. The ineffectual king, however, seals his fate over the course of the play as he squanders the coffers of his country and surrounds himself with flatterers. Henry Bolingbroke, the king’s banished cousin, returns to England out of frustration with the king’s inability to run the country. Henry finds allies in the aristocracy and the poor alike, as they have grown weary of Richard. Things come to head and in true Shakespearean tragedy-style, the end is a bloody one.
Two Pence’s production is a skilled one, despite the challenges inherent in the script. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the family tree. Unless the audience has an in-depth knowledge of British Royal history, figuring out how all the characters are related is puzzling. This production takes care of that problem with a handy flow chart chalked out on one of three blackboards that make up the set. Another blackboard is used to note down where each scene is taking place. The rest of the set is sparse but the few pieces are effectively used.
I give high kudos to the cast for delivering excellent and engaging performances. Shakespearean language can be alienating, but the cast mitigates this with incredibly expressive performances. The cast comprises only six actors, four of which play a number of different roles. Ally Carey, in particular, seamlessly transitions from one role to another. Her portrayal of John of Gaunt, the aging but proud uncle of Richard II, is extremely well done.
The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly Michael Mercier, who plays the title role. He brings Richard to life in all his pettiness and insecurity. Richard certainly gets what he deserves, but we can’t help but feel for him when he is stripped of his life as he knows it. He is, at once, pompous and pitiable. Mercier brings out this and other contradicting aspects of this character with finesse.
It might seem intimidating to have to sit through a Shakespeare play, but this one is worth a watch. There are enough twists and turns to draw you into the world of court intrigue and absorb you. The simplicity of the production helps enhance the stellar performances and compelling script, which is, ultimately, a winning formula.
Richard II continues through March 16th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15-$20, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TwoPenceTheatre.org. (Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes, no intermission)
Sarah Augusta (Aumerie, Queen); Ally Carey (John Of Gaunt, Bushy Northumberland, Exton); Jared Fernley (Bollingbroke); Eliza Hofman (Duke Of York, Bagot, Ross); Alexander Lane (Mowbray, Green, Carlisle, Percy, Duchess); Michael Mercier (King Richard the Second); Peter G. Andersen, Maggie Scrantom (understudies)
behind the scenes
Kathryn Walsh (director); Maggie Scrantom (asst. director); Lucy Carapetyan (movement coach); Jessica M. Carson (production manager, lighting); Sarah Hoeferlin (stage manager); Izumi Inaba (costumes); Jeff Kelley (sound design, original composition); Dan Stratton (set, props): Justin Verstraete (violence design); Tom Wells (artistic director, voice coach).