Brilliant performances by the title and principal characters weren’t quite enough to bridge the gap between medieval England and the cabaret world of Weimar Germany in a production of “Richard III.”
The Reduxion Theatre version did succeed in using the seductive but disturbing atmosphere of pre-Hitler Germany to make one of William Shakespeare’s grimmest historical plays a bit more engaging.
Especially effective were a ‘20s-style dance number some spectators were invited to participate in, and one after intermission equating joining the circus, represented by costumed revelers, with death.
Also adding, at least marginally, to the production’s palpable atmosphere of doom and destruction, was a late segment during which choral voices off-stage powerfully condemned the title character.
But its chief asset was the performances of main characters, many in multiple roles, although even their efforts didn’t make it easy, or sometimes even possible, to follow the plot’s many complications.
Wearing a strange harness to deal with a deformed arm instead of a back-hump, Rex Daugherty was magnetic and monstrous, but not histrionic, as the duke who murders and manipulates his way to the throne.
Pacing himself well, Daugherty kept everyone off balance with his ability to be both hypocritical and threatening, not only in dialogue with others, but in monologues with himself and the audience.
A Washington, D.C., actor and teacher who grew up in Oklahoma City and Moore, Daugherty has performed at the The Folger Theater, The Kennedy Center and off-Broadway.
Jeremy Lister supplied a touching human dimension as the Duke of Clarence, who can’t believe, until the very end, that his brother Richard has sent him to the Tower of London to be murdered.
Lister was also solid in a second role as the Earl of Richmond, the king’s military nemesis, who joins him on stage in a haunting getting-ready-for-bed and dream scene the night before their final battle.
Andrew Rathgeber was forceful and self-serving as the Duke of Buckingham, who refuses to arrange for the murder of the king’s two young nephews, if he isn’t assured of a coveted earldom.
Wearing a uniform with a York white rose instead of a swastika, Ian Clinton was another threatening presence, along with Oliver Archibald as Sir James Tyrell, who agrees to do the king’s dirty work.
Suzanne Stanley brought the right weak, “go along to get along” vamp qualities to Lady Anne, overcoming repulsion to marry the king, well aware she won’t live long enough to reap the union’s benefits.
Confronting the king in some of the play’s best scenes were Jennifer Casteel as his mother, Kris Schinske as Queen Elizabeth, and Cristela Carrizales, as the old and “mad” Queen Margaret.
Sue Ellen Reiman was just crusty and recalcitrant enough as Lady Hastings, who is led off to be executed, still disgruntled and talking back to the king in a memorable vignette.
Disturbing rather than escapist entertainment, and lasting nearly three hours under the direction of Tyler Woods, Reduxion’s “Richard III” isn’t the musical “Cabaret,” with all its guilty pleasures.
But it is Shakespeare and well worth attending, at least for those with a strong stomach for the darker side of human nature, during its run through Nov. 25 at Reduxion’s Broadway Theatre, 1613 N Broadway Ave.
It will be staged at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Nov. 18 and 25.
Tickets are $18 for adults; and $15 for students, senior citizens and members of the military. Call 651-3191 or visit the website at www.reduxiontheatre.com for information.