Richard II—Theatre

The good news…The Sydney Harmon Theatre’s Richard II is a great play full of absolutely brilliant performances from every cast member. The bad news… the play is more than three hours long.

Let’s start with what’s great about Richard II, directed by Michael Kahn—the story. All the wonderful performances in the world can’t make for an entertaining night of theatre if the story isn’t there and this is one of Shakespeare’s more compelling pieces. Richard II, born to power, handles it poorly and ultimately loses his throne (in some ways, he’s the polar opposite of Victoria, who also comes to power at a young age, but became one of England’s most beloved rulers). The scenes with his supporters, with his wife, Katherine, and his rival, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), are beautifully written.

Now let’s get to the acting. Led by Michael Hayden as Richard II, this production contains some of the best performances the Shakespeare Theatre has ever produced. Good as Henry V in the other play currently at the Harmon, Hayden soars as Richard. He’s completely believable as a spoiled, young ruler and as the bewildered, repentant older king.

Shakespeare Theatre stalwarts Floyd King and Philip Goodwin shine in dual roles, especially King. Normally the fool in most Shakespeare productions, his two roles have not an ounce of comedy in them and he is wonderful in both. Ted van Griethuysen, as the Duke of York is also very good in a role that calls for both comedic and dramatic acting chops.

No matter how great this production is, it’s very long and difficult to sit through. A second intermission would be helpful. Another thought—editing. Yes, I know this is heresy to some, but think about it. Liberties are taken with Shakespeare’s plays all the time…changing timeframes, locations, dress, etc. Even this production adds some material. Therefore, couldn’t some scenes be eliminated? I love Naomi Jacobson, but her scene as the Duchess of York with the Duke of York and their son, the Duke of Aumerle and then their scene with Bolingbroke are long, add nothing to the play, and are completely unnecessary…off with their head! Just a thought.

Richard II is produced in repertory with Henry V. For this reviewer, Richard II is far superior, but both plays provide a plethora of fabulous acting performances. How the actors manage to do both plays at the same time is a complete mystery, but somehow they do. Mr. Shakespeare would be very proud.

Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

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