It’s been only five months since the last production of Richard III hit Boston, so I was relatively unenthused when Commonwealth Shakespeare Company announced it as their choice for this summer’s free Shakespeare on the Common. But Steven Maler’s stylish, electric production—which will run through Aug 5—makes a great case for its swift return, and I was on the edge of my lawn chair for most of it.
Faran Tahir (Star Trek; Scandal) stars as Richard, one of the great dramatic villains, who lies and murders his way to the throne in a long series of calculated steps. Described as being as grotesquely deformed on the outside as he is evil on the inside, Tahir’s Richard is no Quasimodo. Rather, this Richard is more of a sexy rebel whose innate charm and sex appeal play as much a factor in his ability to spellbind as his intelligence.
The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Remo Airaldi, a Commonwealth Shakespeare mainstay, and Bobbie Steinbach, even if she has a tendency to luxuriate in the language a bit too much. But the best performance belongs to Deb Martin who, as Queen Elizabeth, gives a performance so fierce that even the moths swirling around the stage lights seemed to stop and take notice.
The look of the production is inspired by, according to director Steven Maler, “Alexander McQueen’s take on 1880’s Jack the Ripper-era silhouettes that are lean, mean, and evocative of a very dark time.” Indeed, this production is lean and mean, and Jessica Pabst’s costumes are so chicly modern that I expected to see Zara among the list of sponsors. The most visually appealing production to play the Common in several years, Eric Southern’s runway-style stage and moody lighting design are first-rate. Nathan Leigh’s sound and original music, too, enhance the mood considerably.
One of my favorite nights at the theater this year, this Richard III is remarkable for both its chicness and for the way that enigmatic Richard’s swift rise and brutal fall registers against our own winter of discontent. And as far as Deb Martin’s performance goes, well, glorious summer, indeed.
RICHARD III. THROUGH 8.5 AT COMMONWEALTH SHAKESPEARE COMPANY ON THE BOSTON COMMON, BOSTON. COMMSHAKES.ORG