It starts with one of the most famous of all the famous lines from Shakespeare:
"Now is the winter of our discontent."
It’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who utters the phrase, setting the stage to prove just how discontented he is in "Richard III," the classic play gettinng a unique treatment by Voices Found Rep, at the Underground Collaborative.
This Richard, played by Jennifer Vosters, is unlike most of the Richard’s I’ve seen in my life, and it has little to do with the fact that Vosters is a woman playing a man.
Under the inventive direction of Alec Lachman, this troupe of youngsters, almost all of them in their 20s, demonstrated their deep and abiding commitment to doing Shakespeare their way. It may not be classical – indeed it is not – but it is certainly interesting and, having seen their "Taming of the Shrew" only a few weeks ago, evidence of the growth of these actors in the difficult task of doing Shakespeare.
This historical play – sometimes called a tragedy – follows the Machiavellian path of Richard, who sets out to become a king by killing anyone who is either in his way or he thinks may be in his way. His victims include brothers, fathers, sons and even his wife.
Before he is done, the blood that’s been shed knows nothing of salvation or revenge. He wipes everyone away and becomes king, but his reign is only for a brief moment until he, himself, is killed off by the Earl of Richmond, a kingly heir in a rival house.
The brilliance of Shakespeare is that he tells a story with both humor and murder afoot and leaves much of the decision-making up to the audience. The difficulties in doing Shakespeare well are innumerable.
The language is difficult, requiring painstaking study to know what each word, each phrase, truly means. Following along with the First Folio is to accept that the playwright provides a path to the performance of his works.
Voices Found is not completely comfortable with the language, at least in every sense. Sometimes pacing either races ahead or lags behind what the playwright instructed. With a cast of 13 young actors it’s expected that some will be more facile with the language than others, and that is true in this production. But the growth from the last production I saw was clear.
Putting all that aside for a moment, though, this production is exciting and unique and a lot of fun. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Heading the joyful experience is Vosters. In the original, Richard is a disfigured hunchback who uses his kingly quest as a salve for his sorrow over his visage. Vosters gives us a withered left arm, perpetually cradled in her stomach and a left foot of such blemish that she walks with both a pronounced limp and a dragging of the foot.
But more than her physical interpretation of Richard is the way she plays this disingenuous villain. She mixes her climb to the top with brute force and charismatic double-dealing. The scene of her seduction of Anne, who will become Richard’s wife, is rife with both sexual tension and danger. We know what Anne is in store for, but can’t blame her for giving in to this libertine.
As Richard builds his empire, lie upon lie, murder upon murder, transgression upon transgression, Vosters delivers a king who is both duplicitous and yet troubled by his lack of a conscience. With a roll of the eyes or a sideways glance at a foe she takes advantage of the space with small moments. It’s a delightful performance.
She is not alone in making this production such a fascinating experience.
Victoria Hudziak is a frightening witch of Queen Margaret, floating and goading and portending all manner of disaster. Thorin Ketelsen plays both Richard’s brother, Clarence, and the Earl who eventually kills Richard. He’s got a statuesque manner that suits both royalty and warrior.
One of the most interesting performances belonged to Samantha Taylor, who played Queen Elizabeth, the wife of Richard’s brother. Most often she is played as a vixen with bitterness spilling out of every pore. But Taylor found a victimhood inside Elizabeth that was both new and powerful.
The space at the Underground Collaborative (in the lower level of Grand Avenue) is an intimate one, which suggests a need for subtlety. Some of the performances were too obvious and over-the-top for such a small space. Anger, in a venue this size, is best expressed without shouting and with something more akin to the straining of the pained.
The opening night crowd was sparse, which is a shame. Theater fans should not let the lack of acquaintance stop them from taking the elevator down to the Grand Avenue basement; they ought to see these actors and directors and artists take a full swing at "Richard III." Not only do they throw a punch, but they connect.
"Richard III" runs through Feb. 19 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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