By Bob Shuman
Aaron Monaghan, as Richard III, in Ireland’s Druid Theatre U.S. production premiere of Shakespeare’s history–it plays until November 23 as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater–appears like Mikhail Baryshnikov’s crippled twin, obsessively jerking forward, planning, always thinking. Probably a delight to the Tony-winning director Garry Hynes–who apparently loves the low, comic staging of old Warner Brothers and Saturday morning cartoons, he can’t stand still, amid posing royals, played by working people—here, Richard’s deformity is pronounced in his lower half, instead of in a humpback and claw hand. As the king, Monaghan is witty, sarcastic, and sadistic—as out of touch and privileged, as a Prince Andrew, who can’t sweat. Shakespeare calls Richard a “hellhound,” but rarely do most audiences feel the banality of mundane murder, which can be overridden, in other productions, by pageantry and towering sets; a star turn. Hynes is interested in the earthbound: smoke and weather (actually, she has brought her Richard III to New York, during our dull and rainy fall, which coincides with mention of All Souls’ Day in the text). She rejects the pomp, like she is knocking over Civil War monuments, although, akin to another Irish director, Maria Aitkens, she and her set and costume designer, Francis O’Connor, fall for hats, thankfully foregoing the one that American men, at least, actually do over-wear: the baseball cap. There is plenty else on display, though: derbies, Beckett’s bowlers (especially relevant to Hynes, given her 2018 staging of Waiting for Godot), antique military wear, puff hats, hoods, veils, and mitres. Richard is one of her rare characters who does not wear headgear—his crown is so temporary.
In costume, whether by convention or necessity, Hynes and O’Connor want to accentuate gender, as well as class. Men wear half-kilts and robes—Clarence plays in white, but much of the design is in black leather–and women play men, or, at least, boys: those young princes taken to the tower. Hynes’s theatrical revolt is larger than not wanting the audience to identify with a story or character, however—she is taking on, and extending philosophies, from Beckett and the Bard, as well as Brecht. Her audiences are aware that they are alienated, as in Epic theatre, but she also wants viewers to understand that the situation is not limited, constrained, or contained. There are cycles of life surrounding the dead wood and industrial rust of her boards and proscenium, an issue men in the house may not think or even care about (Camille Paglia has brought this issue up, regarding Beckett). Hynes’s Godot insists on asserting life beyond confines—and Richard III emphasizes, of course, death. The metaphor for her setting is too inspired and original to spoil for anyone who will see this work, especially for those who do not automatically identify it—when the pieces come together, the revelation is at once apparent and incisive. Viewers, however, may want to investigate Conor Linehan’s Celtic-tinged minimalist music.
On the one hand, Hynes gives futurist punk costuming and Shakespearean oration, scraped clean, and on the other, she intersperses scenes with expressionist images and horror movie chills—such as a corpse being pulled on the train of Lady Anne’s gown. There is an indebtedness to Strindberg, as well, who also knew of a pagan, agrarian cosmos, as Hynes allows her queens to crawl, like pigs, in the dirt.
© 2019 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Directed by Garry Hynes
Produced by Druid
Starring Aaron Monaghan as Richard III
Francis O’Connor, set and costume design
James F. Ingalls, lighting design
Gregory Clarke, sound design
Conor Linehan, music
David Bolger, movement and fight choreography
Doreen McKenna, co-costume design
With Marie Mullen, Jane Brennan, Ingrid Craigie, Garrett Lombard, Rory Nolan, Marty Rea, Bosco Hogan, Peter Daly, John Olohan, Siobhan Cullen, Frank Blake, Emma Dargan-Reid
Performance length: Three hours, including intermission
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Photos: (from top) Robbie Jack, Richard Termine
Press: Michelle Tabnick