I have been on a quest, since my kids were old enough go to the theater, to make sure they see productions of all 38 plays by Shakespeare before I die (even though this quest probably is taking years off my life).
My son (23) couldn’t decide which performance opening weekend of “Richard III” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey he wanted to attend — mostly because hanging out with Mom on a Friday or Saturday night was a fate worse than death.
I gave up and took a friend, a Shakespeare lover. Later I told my son the title character was wondrously played by Derek Wilson, who plays Donnie Schenck on AMC’s “Preacher,” one of my son’s favorite shows, and … well, his reax wasn’t pretty. Oh, well.
Wilson’s Richard is a super evil character who kills his way to the England throne with such inner glee. Like any ruthless and aspiring CEO he manipulates anyone he can and disposes of them when their usefulness is over.
You can see a sparkle in his eyes when he outmaneuvers yet another character — after all, he is the smartest person in the room — and turns to look at the audience. He knows that we know what he did and without an audience it’s just not as much fun.
All that work and he was only King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485, at the age of 32, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. You know, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”, which was a throw away line here.
Paul Mullins smoothly directs this work, the second longest play in the canon, but always cut and here runs about 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission. It’s well cast and well designed.
It also has guns. That are really loud. And some are really big. And all ejects casings on the stage after they’ve been used in this non-period production.
A 2-story set is sleek and modern, but the arrowslit openings in the textured walls designed by Brittany Vasta gives the hint of a castle from the Middle Ages.
Costume designer Kristin Isola dresses the men in suits while Richard, who is very fond of black, slithers around the stage in leather pants and jacket until his coronation when he dons an orange-red 3-piece suit. He even upgrades his crutch.
The women also favor black, but that’s probably because they all are mourning people Richard has murdered or imprisoned. Or, because this play takes place during the Wars of the Roses when two rival branches of the royal house of the Plantagenets — the Lancasters and the Yorks — were at each other’s throats.
Sheffield Chastain is very good as Catesby, one of Richard’s most loyal supporters but in Shakespeare’s play he’s a thug who carries out Richard’s orders. Chastain takes a somewhat minor role here and imbues it with purpose and zeal and makes his character memorable.
Carol Halstead as Queen Margaret, widow of King Henry VI; Ellen Fiske as the Duchess of York, mother of Richard, Edward and Clarence, and Gretchen Hall as Queen Elizabeth are used and abused while trying to protect and survive.
If you haven’t seen “Richard III” you should try this one on for size.
And as for my recalcitrant son, he may yet see catch Derek Wilson on stage here next season. His company credits so far include: Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV, Part One, No Man’s Land, The Comedy of Errors, Henry VI: Blood & Roses.
Tickets: $32 for regular performances; $30 for patrons aged 30 and younger (subject to availability); including $15 student rush tickets 30 minutes prior to each performance, 973-408-5600
Where: 36 Madison Ave., Madison