The production of Shakespeare’s Richard III that opened at the Curran Theatre last night has already played to accolades in London, “will be seen all over the world, from China to Greece and Turkey,” (according to the WSJ), and will open in New York next year. And, in fact, it’s already being described as “an extraordinary theater event” by SF Weekly, one night into its 12 performances in San Francisco.
Starring Kevin Spacey and directed by Sam Mendes, this historical play boasts the kind of Hollywoodish star power that ensures that the crowds that see it will go beyond those who who argue over whether it should be classified as a First Folio or a tragedy.
Starring a mugging, twitching, and ultimately compelling Spacey in full Verbal limp as the eponymous aspiring king, the production is gorgeously staged, with clever solutions presented for theatrically-awkward moments like decapitation.
However, is this play for any fan of, say, Pay it Forward or Away We Go? It’s hard to say — even made more contemporary, Richard III is a very demanding text. During intermission (hey, if the Weekly gets to use lobby buzz as a source, so will I), I heard more than one person say “I have absolutely no idea what is happening.”
Context is key to understanding what the hell is going on here — context you can easily get from Wikipedia, if you don’t mind spoilers. So that’s tip #1 for those of you who either aren’t born Shakespeare Superfans, or those who are now too old/secure to *pretend* that you are.
That isn’t to imply that this Richard III is humorless or dry — Spacey is (duh) a gifted comic actor, and there are many laughs beyond those from audience members who want to prove to others that they “get it” (you know what I’m talking about). And there are just enough inside jokes (a Marx — Groucho, not Karl reference, and was that a Se7en nudge with Hastings’ remains?) to entertain the poppier cultured among us.
Speaking of the poppier among us: my second tip is to be prepared for a long haul. Wednesday night, the play began promptly at 7:30, and the lights went up for intermission…at 9:30. Richard III is well-known as a long play, and though the production is tight and engaging, when you hit midway and you’ve been at it for two hours, it can be rough. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Plan accordingly.
(Which, I am ashamed to say, I did not, and was called away before the end of the show, another reason this is not a traditional review — as we all know, it’s ethically suspect for a reviewer to pretend to have seen a whole show when one did not.)
All in all, with just a little bit of contextual preparation, a babysitter who can stay late, and maybe an afternoon nap, I believe the rigor required by the show is rewarded, as long as you enter into this knowing you’re not in for the lightness of a Midsummer Night’s Dream or even a Tempest. And, hey, if you’re a Shakespeare Superfan, this show will definitely not leave you discontented.
You can learn more about The Bridge Project’s production of Richard III on the Old Vic’s site and get details on the San Francisco run at SHN’s Curran Theatre here. “Limited View” box seats remain available for all performances, they’re $35 on Tuesday and Wednesday, $50 on Thursday through Sunday, and can only be purchased in person at the Curran Box Office or by phone at 888 746 1799. The show runs until October 29.