“Richard II” / Walking the Dog Theater / Hawthorne Valley School
MAKING THEATER is preposterous. Especially making Shakespeare. Making theater is expensive, time-eating, and brain-taxing. When doing it, an author and bunches of people have to merge efforts in order to herd the brains of other bunches of people (audiences) into a complex, specific path. At each performance, for a couple of hours, the audience-bunch has to sit still and shut up. Their brain-engagement needs to be “enjoyable” in some way—especially if the joy is to be some sort of fresh understanding. Then the theater-makers have to keep doing it over and over, night after night.
Some theater-makers are actors.
Shakespeare is lucky that, in Columbia County, NY, 2018, he has David Anderson.
Audiences can read minds, and in “Richard II,” they like reading Anderson’s. Actually, Anderson-thoughts have disappeared and Richard-thoughts are left on the stage. The audience-bunch intuits the thinking-life of Richard because Anderson is–moment-by-moment–thinking it. It is a result of both actor-gift and actor-craft, and it is a pleasure to behold.
This actor is abetted by director Melania Levitsky. She mostly clarifies place and meaning–with movement, humor, and with details such as use of levels and use of silence. But, most of all, she does it with that mysterious, behavior-sculpting process that goes on between actor and director. From the connection of these two, a certain utterly human mix of sense and craziness comes careening through Shakespeare’s poetic Richard-words. There results a kind of specificity that is not on the page.
Of course, audience brains are easily diverted by irrelevancies and small, sometimes unintended details: The tall man in the row ahead of me is blocking my view of half the stage! And when the actor with less-than perfect diction gives his back to my part of the audience, nuts! I lose what he is saying. Oh, at first, the costumers have dressed Richard in yards of gold-lined white satin with a disc surrounding his face and huge golden bows on his toes! That must mean this Richard will be depicted as an outrageous narcissist! (Maybe. But the costumers’ slow dis-ornamenting/disrobing of Richard throughout the play turns out to be what speaks from cloth.) The unpleasant blatting of brass instruments between some scenes appears to be intentional! (I wonder why. Something is rotten in this sceptered isle?) The beautiful young actress playing the queen is utterly invested in the reality of her character, but her voice is very high-pitched and without the heft these words seem to require. And oh yes, I have to remember that the actor playing X is actually now playing Y. Oh yes, I must keep reminding myself that that character is a man, though he reads like a woman. (Oh, the actor is a woman.) Look: In another role, a woman called TAMIR, as Duke of York, is doing it well!
It’s a huge cast, and not every actor is an Anderson. Shakespeare himself must have wrestled with a similar issue.
“Richard II” resonates with questions about the power granted to a single, somewhat irrational human being over a mass of human beings–along with the power and sycophancy of that person’s enablers. It also addresses the power of individuals and masses to push back or influence. Familiar? All too.
Though “Richard II” ends tragically, Levitsky lifts the mood skyward with vigorously choreographed, full-cast bows that connect lovingly with her audience-bunch.
See “Richard II” at the Hawthorne Valley School through July 29th. Telephone 518-392-3399 for reservations.