- Richard III
Ever since Richard Burbage played him in 1592, famous actors—to the delight of centuries of audiences—have been attracted to the role of Shakespeare's Richard III. The play, after all, is all about Richard— a vehicle for a complex and detailed character study unparalleled in a chronicle or possibly any other dramatic mode. Perhaps the allure of Richard comes from his stunning contradictions: he is supremely villainous, yet charismatic; unreservedly cruel and calculating, yet surprisingly humorous. Throughout the play, Richard schemes, murders, and connives, and yet in the final act, after a restless night, he undergoes what appears to be a rather bizarre psychotic break: "Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I. / Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am./ Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason. Why?" To an actor, such a role must be irresistible. No surprise, then, that Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey would want to take on the role, and revel in it, much to the delight of the full houses to which he played both in England and in the US in Sam Mendes's production for the collaborative Bridge Project.
The intimate Curran Theatre was filled to capacity for the matinee performance I enjoyed. The set was relatively bare, containing only a black leather chair. A screen hung behind the stage on which was projected the words "I NOW" probably to suggest something about the opening soliloquy. Spacey's entrance, in modern dress and sunglasses, was stunning. Possibly influenced by Anthony Sher's groundbreaking performance with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985, Spacey chose to depict Richard's deformity as the "bottled spider": he wore a leg brace that emphasized unnatural twists in his legs, carried a cane, and clearly had a humpback. He didn't so much limp as scuttle across the stage. During the opening soliloquy, old black and white images of war flickered on the screen beneath the words, and the lighting caused the shadows to play ominously on the walls.
While for the most part I loved Spacey's performance, he did lack some nuance in delivery. This was driven home in the brilliant staging of 3.7, when Richard, knowing that because of his murderous treachery the throne is his for the taking, attempts to sway the populace into supporting him by appearing not to want the responsibility. Mendes opted to use the [End Page 193]screen during this scene, projecting a close-up of Spacey above the stage during the conversation with the Mayor of London and Buckingham in which Richard pretends to prefer a quiet life of prayer to the scepter of state: "Alas, why would you heap this care on me?" On the big screen, Spacey seemed more comfortable. His subtle facial expressions could easily be read, and his voice perfectly depicted the irony and humor of the moment. By contrast, Spacey on stage delivered many of his lines as if he was worried about being heard in the back of the theatre. Unfortunately, some of the subtler moments of the play suffered because of this lack of modulation. Nevertheless, overall, Spacey's performance was spellbinding.
One of the challenges with having such a strong...