Let’s begin in the middle. Long ladies’ room lines at intermission permit ample eavesdropping for the likes of me.
“So what do you think?”
“…I like it. Unlike any Richard I’ve seen.”
“Yeah, he’s almost comical. It’s kind’a weird. But I like it. I do. I don’t know…”
Perfect. Just what I want to hear. Just what I want to see. Richard is a fascinating character that I’ve seen played many ways. Sometimes it’s the sympathy card thrown down by a man with disabilities and an unloving, frightening mother. Sometimes it’s the tyrant, who is more Machiavellian than prince. On this stage, there’s no doubt mom’s angry, and there’s no doubt Richard has a hump and a limp, but he also has a swagger and a skip when left alone to soliloquize about his triumphs, and he’d sooner smirk than cower in any face. Reg Rogers plays Richard as—if I may steal the words of Peter Holland—a “diabolical comedian” who applies a nonchalance and a flippancy to his life-altering actions. He is the god, and he plays on this stage for sport. There’s nothing sympathetic about him, and I like it.
I like the comedy, too, and Rogers delivers it in a Groucho Marx meets Judd Nelson (Breakfast Club days) sort of way. I almost expect to see a cigar in his hand when he offers his asides. But O is he manipulative, and oh so happy with the webs he weaves, the plots he lays. Richard is second only to Hamlet in soliloquies and time upon Shakespeare’s stage, and thankfully so, as Rogers is the reason you ought to weather the cold nights at the Bruns Memorial Amphitheater this season, and frankly, that’s reason enough.
Director Mark Rucker spins this historical tale by way of the Wheel of Fortune. The stage is crafted with an abundance of neon lights, sometimes beaming, other times glowing, with right stage mirroring left, and snippets of Kay Starr’s 1952 tune “Wheel of Fortune” echoing the idea that Richard is a gamblin’ man. Rogers returns this echo at the end of his opening soliloquy when he spits on, shakes, and rolls his imaginary dice across the stage before the action begins. Richard may lose, but Rogers is a gamble that pays off.
When Rogers woos Lady Anne, Susannah Livingston is far from a modest, grieving widow. Draped in a thin, plain, long white silken gown under a wide-open black robe, the chill in the air is apparent through her apparel (mind you this is in comparison to the layers upon layers of “medieval” black and gray pants, boots, vests and long coats attiring others.) But Cal Shakes isn’t much for modesty. We get a lengthy glimpse of Lord Hastings (T. Edward Webster) from behind as he incorrectly discounts Lord Stanley’s dream of razed heads (if you will), and as Clarence (Max Gordon Moore) begs for his life, he dashes about the Tower in tighty whities and black socks—a frightening concept in itself. And let’s not forget last season at Cal Shakes when the fair Rosalind (also and well-played by Livingston) stripped down to her birthday suit while waxing poetic about her rebirth from woman to man. This little tactic seems to be a signature fashion at Cal Shakes, and I, for one, don’t mind a bit; but I do mind Livingston’s tendency to strike a pose with her every line, and I do mind the imposed rather than felt passion in her tone. I also question just who is wooing whom in this humor, as when Livingston isn’t throwing her head back in grief, eyes closed, and swaying to some silent Stevie Wonder tune, she’s charging Rogers with breasts encloseth’d by nothing, and a looking glass of seduction that leaves her a more misshapen character than her foe.
The ghostly Queen Margaret (Catherine Castellanos) lurks in the shadows at all the right moments, watching and listening as her prophesies are fulfilled, but it’s when she takes center stage that she leaves her audience rapt. With a gray face, white gown, and a bevy of glory days jewels draped around her ample neck, there is something very Joan Crawfordish about Castellanos that exudes an overdramatic and a, frankly, scary demeanor, transforming her relatively small part into one with great impact.
Buckingham is sometimes played just as diabolically as Richard, and Dan Hiatt serves as a fine right hand man for Rogers, but it’s apparent just who is more wicked than whom after Hastings’ head is carried onstage in what I seem to remember to be a Target bag. A heady game of soccer leaves Buckingham obviously disturbed, and when Rogers is left alone with the head, Starr starts singin’, the lights start flashin’, the game turns to basketball, and the audience rightfully cringes with every thump of the head. Horrifyingly ghastly, but oh so good.
For Machiavelli, Fortuna is a force to be utilized if favorable, and a force to be overcome—by any means— if a foe. In this way, Richard is certainly Machiavellian. On this stage, however, Rogers is something more. Fortuna is handled with flippancy and nonchalance. She is shaken when stirred, and spat upon before being tossed across the stage. Rogers doesn’t even bother to look at the outcome of his roll. He just turns, with a swagger and a skip, betting the odds that he’s more than just the average player.