Sunday, February 27, 2005
"Now is the winter of our discontent." Richard III Act I, Scene I
So yesterday I finally managed to get down to the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which was holding a Media Night for its 2005 season and its new production of that tale of treachery and general bad behavior, "Richard III." Yep, it's fun being a media dude sometimes. Another reporter, his wife and I trekked the 2 hours south to Ashland, and enjoyed the play heartily, which features a reptilian, noxious performance by James Newcomb as the titular king (and yeah, that's Laurence Olivier from the 1940s movie above, but I just love the goofy Vulcan-crossed-with-King look he's got going on).
As an appreciator of Shakespeare since my high school days and a frequent visitor to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival when we lived down that way, I always felt vaguely stupid for not having been to Ashland — particularly after we moved to Oregon three years ago. It's only probably the most famous Shakespeare festival in the United States, with a grand Elizabethan recreation theater (unfortunately only open for the summer season, so we saw "Richard III" in a very nice but less historic theater instead) and acclaim far and wide. I've always meant to go to Ashland. In high school my Shakespeare class even took a trip up there and for some inane reason I can't recall 15 years on, I didn't go. Then, once we moved up here Avril and I kept meaning to go, but then she got pregnant and then we had a kid and so on and so forth... Anyway, it felt good to finally check something off the mental checklist by taking the good folks at OSF up on their media day.
"Richard III" isn't my favorite Shakespeare play (that title would go to "The Tempest," "A Midsummers Nights' Dream" or good ol' "Romeo and Juliet," depending on the mood) but it's justly famous for its unsparing portrayal of power gone mad. The play is burdened by too many characters at first, endless factions of royalty skirmishing with each other and palace intrigue galore, but all you really need to know is Richard hates everyone and will stop at nothing to gain power and crush his enemies. It's the kind of play that sinks or fails on the performance of the actor playing Richard, and Newcomb did a great job of it last night. (I particularly liked his use of crutches in playing the deformed king, which gave him a lurching, spider-like appearance.)
The marvelous thing about Shakespeare is that you never quite absorb it all - whenever I see one of the plays I only feel like my brain gets 40%, tops, of the Bard's words. Perhaps those layers of meaning are the reason the dude's still read and seen 500 years after his time.