A great lead performance anchors this new and unsettling production of Shakespeare’s classic history.
By Ellen Wernecke
As portrayals of disabled or physically challenged people go, “Richard III” is not the most sympathetic. Spoiler alert: After describing himself in the monologue which opens the play as “not shaped for sportive tricks” (and the disappointments in love that accompany that shape), Richard goes on a rampage, killing his brother and nephews because they’re in the way of the throne. Let’s leave it as, “not ADA approved.”
In the program notes for its presentation of “Richard III,” Nicu’s Spoon Theater attempts to turn this depiction on its head by asking, Could he have been justified? It gives one pause; how many years of being treated like a pariah can one man stand? The theater’s decision to include the show in its disability-themed season is a bit odd, considering we have no evidence outside of Shakespeare that Richard III was as Old Will depicts him -- maybe “rudely stamp’d” in ambition only.
However, the casting of Henry Holden, a superb actor who uses crutches because of a childhood bout with polio, as the would-be king is a master stroke that lifts the question out of the theoretical. Holden brings a freaky intensity to his Gloucester from the first second on stage; in the Spoon’s tiny theatre, I was almost afraid to look him in the eyes. Spurned in love, he reaches for power as an aphrodisiac, and given the tumultuous times in which he was surrounded, it makes sense. That Holden uses his own voice for soliloquies and asides, with Andrew Hutcheson providing booming, royal tones, is jarring at first, but it works because Holden is so committed to acting through it.
The surrounding cast is good (particularly Rebecca Challis, as Edward IV’s widow who swings from grief to rage and back), but this is Holden’s show, and his performance leads us to question Shakespeare’s original intent.
Through July 29, Nicu’s Spoon Theater, 38 W. 38th St., 5th Floor
For more information, visit Nicu’s Spoon’s website.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.