Theater review

Richard II & Richard III, By William Shakespeare (Translated by Shimon Zandbank and Meir Weiseltier), adapted and directed by Arthur Kogan, Cameri Theater, July 9 and 13.

July 28, 2012 22:21
2 minute read.

Shakespeare play (370). (photo credit: Daniel Kaminsky)

In the Shakespeare canon, Richard II falls into his middle period, written after Richard III, but it addresses the themes of his earliest history plays, the three parts of Henry VI, that deal with the Wars of the Roses (1455-87). For many, the Wars of the Roses were Divine retribution for England’s sinful ways.

To this riving civil war Richard II is the precursor and Richard III the conclusion.

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You can, of course, see only one Richard and come away shaken, but for the full impact you need to see both because in their scope and execution these productions are transformative theater that will disturb, terrify, exalt and enthrall you.

Taking his cue from Elizabethan theater, designer Eran Atzmon has created an open space that in Richard II emphasizes the sacred and the profane. The mirrored rear wall is bisected by a giant cross. The forestage is defined by small hillocks of what looks like coal slag. For Richard III what’s left of Richard II’s arena is the rusty scaffolding shrouded in plastic to hide the dirt, the debris, and a big bloody handprint, revealed when the plastic is ripped away.

Mostly the same actors play in both productions and their characters reflect the times’ deterioration. For instance, the humorless, casually cruel Northumberland of Richard II morphs into the gleefully conscienceless, opera-singing and murderous Tyrrel of Richard III, both generously set forth by Eli Gorenstein. Dudu Niv creeps up on and briskly snaps up the principled York (R. II) and opportunistic Buckingham (R. III) with his customary and powerful understatement. Alon Dahan’s blustery, straightforward Mowbray (R. II) is neatly offset by his anxious, eager, doomed Hastings (R. III). Yossi Graber splendidly ornaments the ailing, prescient John of Gaunt (R. II) and the aged naivety of Edward IV (R. III).

Not all the actors double. Ruti Asersai (R.III) lends vulnerability and courage to her luminous Lady Ann. Yossi Kantz’ Derby (R.III) is stalwart. Gil Frank is Bolingbroke, (R.II), later Henry IV, and plays him with banked ferocity, with diamond intensity. His Bolingbroke is a hard man who can grasp power and will know to use it, but who will remain its master.

But the epicenter of Richards II and III is Itay Tiran who plays the title role in each.

As Richard II, his abuse of the power his kingship grants him leads him inexorably from golden-haired, white-clad superstar to rag-wrapped, barefooted has-been. As Richard III, his body half encased in rigid harness, he nimbly and with gusto orchestrates and executes the moves that will realize his ambition, and as inexorably, lead to his downfall.

Both Richards are actors, each in his own way, and as such their characters suit Tiran who revels on the stage like a dolphin in the sea. His R. II moves surely and with true pathos to self-awareness. He speaks and makes to sing the beautiful lines Shakespeare gave this Richard, never stooping to mawkishness.

The real shocker is his Clockwork Orange Richard III, a near-sociopath whom Tiran strips as naked as the man’s ambition. He holds nothing back, giving us a Richard who teeters on the brink of the abyss from the very beginning, and like his earlier namesake, learns the truth about himself too late.

It’s not often that our repertory theaters take the bit in their teeth and forgo the “sure thing.” With Richard II and Richard III, the Cameri has done just that. A must see.

Oh yes! You’ll laugh a lot too.

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