By William Shakespeare; Translated and Adapted by Marius von Mayenburg; Directed by Thomas Ostermeier
Produced by Schaubühne Berlin
Part of BAM's 2017 Next Wave Festival
Off Broadway, Classic
Ran through 10.14.17
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
by Keith Paul Medelis on 10.18.17
Company of Richard III. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: A bad-ass Richard III in keeping with the ethos of 2017 and the last gasp of powerful white men.
You might recall that earlier this summer, the Public Theatre weathered a storm by producing a Julius Caesar with a full, unapologetic Trump impression. Sponsors bailed, but nothing is stronger than Hamilton (originally produced by the Public) so all ended out fine for them. Less talked about at the time was the justification for this version of the production in the first place: to my mind, you do kind of have to like Caesar for that play to work. Why do this play in this way, now?
Schaubühne Berlin has the answer for us. Their Richard III, performed in German with English supertitles, is expertly conceived to speak to our worldwide crisis of powerful men behaving badly, rampant with overcompensation and petulant entitlement. This Richard III is Trump, constructing his domain on the most unsustainable foundation in recent American history. But he’s also all of the other racist, bigoted pigs that have been brought into focus across the world. I couldn’t help but think of Harvey Weinstein in this version of the famous courtship of Richard and Anne: Richard, played by Lars Eidinger, fully disrobes as some kind of wooing strategy, locking Anne in a prison of male entitlement.
Eidinger is a remarkable Richard III—this theater is his playground. And Jan Pappelbaum's scenic design supports his world. A single microphone hangs at stage center, and Richard’s asides are delivered here with the inflection of a heavy metal band leader, biting every consonant, breathing heavily. The mic also has a light on it (and other fun surprises in store) that is both a spotlight and searchlight, a metaphor for Richard himself if I’ve ever seen one, focusing on himself while always looking with uncertainly about for what's next.
The stage is an utter mess. The floor is sand; it gets filled with confetti, blood, and spit, leaving the Harvey destroyed in Richard’s wake. You similarly leave the space in this messy wake for somebody else to clean up, just like this disastrous rule. (Kudos to that somebody else here.) The music, by Nils Ostendorf, is rampantly loud, heavy metal. It accosts us and gives Richard an undeniably badass edge. The sound changes with the death of the young princes to something more like a metronome beat, just counting down the seconds before this must come to an end. Director Thomas Ostermeier doesn’t offer us any room to breathe with an intermission-less two and half hours that is rewarding in a masochistic kind of way. He beautifully controls the pace of a show that made me forget I had to pee, fearful I would miss a crucial bit of brilliance.
This Richard III ends with no battle. It ends with no Richard crying out for a horse. Instead, it seethes with the kind of unsustainable end that is quiet, like a flame extinguishing on a wick that has burned to the end in a pool of liquid wax. This is the natural end. Richard’s crazed desire for power is about his own insecurities, one hurt by a world of his own making. The applause that comes at the end of this shocking finale is both appreciation for Eidinger’s commanding performance and gratitude that this terror upon us is over. Maybe our own terror-in-chief will end his unsustainable reign soon. We will stand and applaud for the end.
(Richard III played at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, through Saturday, October 14. The running time was 2 hours 30 minutes with no intermission. More information can be found at bam.org.)
Richard III is by William Shakespeare. Translated and Adapted by Marius von Mayenburg. Directed by Thomas Ostermeier. Scenic Design is by Jan Pappelbaum. Costume Design is by Florence von Gerkan in collaboration with Raif Tristan Sczesny. Lighting Design is by Erich Schneider. Music is by Nils Ostendorf. Dramaturgy is by Florian Borchmeyer.
The cast is Thomas Bading, Robert Beyer, Lars Eidinger, Christoph Gawenda, Moritz Gottwald, Jenny König, Laurenz Laufenberg, Eva Meckbach, and Sebastian Schwarz.