Richard III is playing as part of “Shakespeare in the Park” through July 17 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
It’s a true shame that press reviews for this wonderful production were embargoed till today, when there is only one week left to try and win lottery tickets. Amazingly, on the night TV and City attended the production there were quite a lot of empty seats. Hopefully, with reviews released today, more New Yorkers and tourists will take advantage of this NYC gem – Free Shakespeare in the Park produced by The Public Theater.
This play, which opens the 60th season at the Delacorte, and will be followed by a second production later this summer, hews fairly close to the original play and is not adapted to modern times as has sometimes been done for these summer creations. No matter, because the tale of Richard III resonates with the contemporary viewer regardless. The story of a controlling man who wants to rule at any cost, and who does not care who will be hurt in his wake, is as pertinent in 2022 as it was in Shakespeare’s time.
The excellent portrayal of Richard III by Danai Gurira (of Black Panther’s Okoye fame) carries the play. It was an interesting choice to select an actress to play Richard but she does a wonderful job as a villain you grow to hate successively over the course of the 2.5 hours. She’s quite convincing as a mission driven, conniving leader who has no qualms about ruining his closest relatives to get what he desires. The small, semi-circular theater allows the viewer to observe the actors’ performances from close-up and Gurira uses the opportunity to connect to the audience.
The casting for this production strove for inclusion of actors who are not often included in mainstream productions. Ali Stroker plays Queen Anne in a wheelchair, Monique Holt, a deaf actress, plays the Duchess of York using sign language (ASL), Gregg Mozgala, who has cerebral palsy, plays Richmond, and the cast also includes an actor of short stature. The diversity was noticeable and made a statement that any actor can play any role. The ASL was sometimes interpreted but occasionally the other actors had learned to sign and dialogue was conducted only in sign language. While a purist may have missed hearing the few lines of Shakespeare, the message of the script was still conveyed and the benefits of inclusion outweighed the recitation of those words.
It is always wonderful to watch these performances outdoors as the sun sets in Central Park. Director Robert O’Hara and Scenic Designer Myung Hee Cho made a smart decision to build a sparse set and let the park, with Belvedere Castle in the background, serve as part of the setting. The versatility of the set and the lighting add much to the production.
This was a high-quality, engaging, reflective and enjoyable evening at the theater, and the best part is it’s available to all for free. See how to try and get tickets here: https://publictheater.org/programs/shakespeare-in-the-park/free-shakespeare-in-the-park/
A second play, As You Like it, adapted into a musical by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery, will be showing later this summer.