My mother, having everything, no longer wants objects for presents. Instead, for gifts, we share experiences of her choice such as going to high tea, perusing a museum, or visiting a historic house. Trouble is, she doesn’t usually select the event that she wants promptly, and so by the time it occurs, I can’t recall whether we are celebrating her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, or..? No matter. Whatever the reason, we went to see Richard III at the Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre the other day. Yes, he is the fellow whose bones were just uncovered under a parking lot in the United Kingdom.
Let me be clear. I had no desire to go. I like Shakespeare, have acted Shakespeare, but tend toward the comedies. Richard III was not on my list of things to do. But it was her present for some holiday or other, so we were going. Mom always seems to pick the serious or tragic or boring, historical shows.
I was not warmed by reading the sign, when we explored the theatre lobby, which revealed that the show is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, with one 15 minute intermission. A three hour play? I was not looking forward to this. I remembered my theatre coach from high school saying a play should never be over 2 hours long; the American attention span just cannot sustain itself that long.
I was shocked. I loved it.
This show is one grisly murder after another – each one different than the last. Not having read the play recently, I do not know if The Bard originally intended the audience to witness all of those murders on stage, but the director (Robert Richmond) clearly did. The deaths were so gripping, I did not notice the show was 3 hours long.
The acting, across the board, was impressive. As Richard, Drew Cortese shared his twisted and initially hidden sociopathic nature with the audience in sly, side expressions and gestures. The costuming and fight choreography were good. The sound, lighting, and staging, in particular, were fabulous. The cast is everywhere – hanging off balconies, sitting on steps, popping through doors above and below ground. No less than nine trap doors complete the set. The stage is otherwise amazingly simple, elegant, and effective. I actually joined others and stood to applaud at the end, about which I am typically fussy and ungenerous.
Afterwards we went through the Great Hall and over to the library wing of the building. The entire structure is gorgeous – and free to visit. I had not been there in years and had forgotten how lovely it is. We viewed a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s works from the 1600s. It is behind glass so you can’t touch it, of course, but they have an electronic version you can flip through which is very cool.
If you are like me and assume that you have a hard time getting excited about Richard III, go, because this production is brilliant. If you need more of a reason, my mother is available for just about any holiday. Time is running short, though. The run continues only through March 16.
Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre
201 E Capitol St., Southeast
Capitol South Metro in D.C.