Shakespeare Etc. is pretty gutsy. Most new theater companies wouldn't debut with a weighty history about the fall of a king -- especially one that requires three generations of background information to understand what's happening onstage. But Richard II
also contains some of Shakespeare's most beautiful poetry, and the production works best when the cast teases this language out. Having received bad counsel from his advisers, King Richard (Robert Sicular) is doomed from the start, but he rules using the power of language and ceremony. Sicular's unique and authentic interpretation of such speeches as "Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings" is worth the price of admission -- it's a pleasure to watch his moments of discovery. Gene Thompson as John of Gaunt is equally striking as he foreshadows Richard's fate in a haunting reverie. Richard II
also has its humorous moments. David Berkson as the Duke of Aumerle goes from cocky young man to bumbling idiot when his father discovers his acts of treason against the usurping Bolingbroke (Matthew Henerson). And Kevin Kelleher turns the throwaway role of the Gardener into a delightful bit of comic relief. But bad performances eclipse some of these good ones. Randal Leigh Wung's excessive mugging as Green takes away any subtlety in the notion that Richard dallied with his advisers. Michael Williams as the Earl of Exton -- who thinks he's doing Bolingbroke a favor when he murders Richard -- skates through the scene in which he presents Bolingbroke with Richard's body, looking unconcerned when Bolingbroke exiles him. Add Jack Lynn's stiff and even sloppy directing (as when John of Gaunt dies on the only chair onstage -- Richard's throne -- or when Richard's crest remains even after he's deposed), and Richard II
equals an ambitious but uneven production.