Encore Michigan

Richard III Summer of Content at Interlochen

Review July 01, 2019 David Kiley

INTERLOCHEN–It is for good reason the Interlochen Shakespeare Festival produced Richard III this year, and they’re not even pretending the historical tragedy isn’t a horrifying yet ultimately hopeful allegory for our current political climate. Nor should they.

When one character proclaims, “It is a reeling world, indeed,” we feel the
truth of it not just about the world on the stage, but about the world to
which we return after the final bows.

Director William Church notes in the program the need for “closer
examination” of “Shakespeare’s lessons on the relentless pursuit of power
at the expense of others,” and asks the audience where they stand in
relation to Richard, Shakespeare’s greatest villain: seduced by his
charisma or aligned with his victims?

The production is so fine, it’s not easy to say.

From direction to individual performances to design, all parts of this
Richard III are remarkable, and yet all of it rests on the portrayal of
Richard, who stops at nothing to become king, killing legions of men,
women, and children to maneuver his way to the top. And Michael
Liebhauser’s Richard is phenomenal and complex, a likable creep,
fascinating in his indefatigability, charming in his brilliance and word
play, impressive in his manipulation, terrifying in his bloodthirst, and
yet utterly pitiful.

Aside from some beautifully choreographed fight scenes, the intensity of
the drama here isn’t in movement; it’s in words. And yet Liebhauser’s
physicality, the way he embodies Richard’s ambiguous deformity, a physical
representation of his damaged soul, is all the drama in movement this show
needs: his left arm perpetually bent at the elbow and wrist, his gimpy left
leg, his pigeon toed limp, and his eyes, at turns wild with anticipation
and preternaturally calm.

He connects deeply with the audience—through soliloquy as written, and also with eye contact and literally leaping into the audience and speaking
directly to people in their seats, patiently awaiting their response to his
question. He also connects deeply with the other actors, and his scenes are
electric, especially with Laura Ames Mittelstaedt as Queen Elizabeth.

The entire ensemble of 18 is quite wonderful, with more than half of them
playing multiple roles, many of which are cross-gender:David Montee as
Lord Hastings; Shelby Lewis as Richmond; Katharine Mangold as Queen
Margaret; and Thaddeus Kaszuba as King Edward IV are but a handful of
excellent performances.

And the visual effects are somewhat understated, but in a way that keeps
the focus on language and story while subtly helping emphasize both. Edward T. Morris’s set—enormous screens of tree branches as cyclorama and as archways that frame characters (beautifully costumed by Risa Alecci) and give them pathways through which to move—is static, save for how Matthew P. Benjamin’s lights make it change and shift as the sun goes down in the beautiful outdoor space of the Upton-Morley Pavilion.

This production is mercifully abridged, clocking in at 2.5 hours including
intermission, and moves at a clip—though not so much so that anything is
lost. So many wonderful choices here make what can be a tedious play
downright riveting.

So much so that in the end, when bright white lights illuminate the stage
and a heartfelt proclamation that “peace lives again” is made, we almost
believe it is also possible beyond the world of the stage.

Week of 5/3/2021

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