BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Said to be Shakespeare’s first big hit and also the first of his plays to be acted professionally in America (in 1750), “Richard III” has remained among his most popular works for more than 400 years.
The 1593 drama is certain to be a huge hit all over again at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater, where The Bridge Project’s impressive production opened on Wednesday with Kevin Spacey providing a truly memorable performance in the title role.
Good luck in nabbing a ticket – but if you are a fan of Shakespeare and Spacey, you really should try, since both are in tremendous form.
Sam Mendes, the director, has done splendidly by the play. Boldly staged in quasi-modern clothes, Mendes’ two-act rendition moves quickly, speaks clearly and helpfully punctuates the text with brief projected titles that focus the viewers’ attention. A percussive, at times eerie score composed by Mark Bennett – performed from the flanking stage boxes -- lends extra drama to Mendes’ riveting show.
While Spacey’s performance is the dark jewel of this crowning production, let’s first mention some of the gold that sets off his work so beautifully.
The Harvey is a great space for classic theater and designer Tom Piper’s austere but striking set design, consisting of whitewashed walls of doors, functions extremely well there as the characters make their many entrances and exits. To underscore how the play opens up in its second part, the walls of doors later expand endlessly upstage. The Bosworth battlefield is lit in striated patterns by Paul Pyant, who supplies many a looming shadow to the earlier proceedings.
The doors are further used dramatically when across their surfaces Queen Margaret literally chalks off the increasing body count. Strategically deployed by Mendes as a commanding figure to haunt the story, the husky-voiced Gemma Jones scarily depicts Margaret as a red-eyed witch whose black magic is shown as key to destroying Richard.
This gambit and several more vividly-staged episodes – the nightmare sequence suggests a feast of the dead – are among highlights in Mendes’ smartly-performed production. Along with Jones’ redoubtable Queen Margaret, Chuk Iwuji’s sharply-smiling shark of a Buckingham, Annabel Scholey’s doomed from the get-go Lady Anne, Maureen Anderman’s elegant Duchess of York and Chandler Williams’ awfully nice Clarence perhaps are the most notable figures, but the individual human detail provided by the entire 20-member ensemble represents sterling acting.