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Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival brings ‘Richard III.’ to the stage

Meghan Thomassen | Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Combine the sarcasm, selfishness and style of Chuck Bass and a strong dose of power-hungry, medieval villainy, and you get Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s “Richard III.”  

By far the best part of this production is Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Michael Gotch). His devilish wit has you laughing from the start of the play, even though his bloody, heartless villainy should have you weeping in the aisles. 

While the rest of the play came off as slightly mechanical and uninspired, Gotch’s smile and cutting remarks make the play well worth your time, Shakespeare scholar or not. 

As of last Wednesday’s opening night, I had never read the play (English major here for the win), so here’s a short summary to help you navigate this tragic comedy. 

The disfigured Richard, Duke of Gloucester is hell- bent on becoming king of England, but he also takes perverse pleasure in mocking, betraying and murdering his friends and family to get to the top. For example, Richard killed Lady Anne’s husband and father-in-law but successfully wooed her next to her former husband’s corpse. 

One by one, Richard dissembles the hierarchy that separates him from the throne. The only one who stands up to Richard is Queen Margaret, who shrieks curses calling for vengeance to fall upon the scheming Richard’s head. (Pay attention: Marge can give you some pretty creative swear ideas.)

The final straw is the cold murder of the crown prince and his little brother in the Tower of London. In protest, the Earl of Richmond (eventually Henry VII) raises troops to stop the bloodthirsty Richard. 

Visions of Richard’s victims haunt him as they cheer for his opponent the night before the battle. 

Before dawn the two men awake, arm themselves and lead their men to the field.

I’ll stop there. 

This play is a must-see because it will remind you just how hilarious Shakespeare can be, and Gotch totally nails the likeable villain role.

In terms of set and costume, the towering hall easily adjusts to fit the action in each scene. The costumes, especially of Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth, were beaded and fantasy-like, a sort of muted version of something from Game of Thrones. 

Richard and his henchmen, however, look like they just jumped out of a metrosexual version of Assassin’s Creed, with dramatic hoods and too-tight pants. 

The stage fighting left something to be desired, the swordsmen feinting and paring in slow motion and missing each other by miles. But only one cast member made a noticeable mistake in his delivery, a kink I expect to be ironed out as the production continues. 

The cast is talented down to the youngest member, Sam Villagra-Stanton, age 10, who was wonderfully articulate and courageous on stage. My favorite actor by far was Lady Anne (Elizabeth Ledo) who draws the eye, no matter where she stands on stage.

 She is a compelling actress – poised, bright and thoroughly convincing. By marrying her father’s and husband’s murderer, she embodies the central conflict of the play: the natural family order dissembled by an evil but completely human influence. 

Although Richard’s methods are satanic and twisted, Gotch effuses irresistible charm. There’s something about his impish smile and lively eyes – you can’t help but root for him. Just as he seduced the stony Lady Anne from her father’s grave, Gotch’s guiles magic the audience as well.

It’s not until you find yourself laughing out loud at Richard’s abuses that you realize you’re as flawed as his character.

Prompting this inadvertent self-reflection is Shakespeare’s signature move, and director Laura Gordon did well by capitalizing on Gotch’s skill to draw out those brilliant moments in the script. 

The play runs for approximately three hours with a brief intermission through Sept. 1 in the Philbin Studio Theater at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Regular tickets are $25 and student tickets are $12.