Richard and Anne
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
June 1, 2005
History is written by the victor. Meaning: The winner has the option of changing the story to make himself look better in the end. But, what happens when the loser comes back from the grave, some 500 years later, to set the record straight?
In this interesting play, Richard and Anne, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Maxwell Anderson in 1955 but never produced, King Richard III, best known as he is portrayed in Shakespeare’s famous history play, as a horribly deformed and cruel homicide, gets an opportunity to tell his side of the story—that he and Anne were really in love, married, had a child who died young, and took up the throne reluctantly before he was killed at Bosworth.
King Richard’s servant, Dag (a very charming DeVon Jackson), who is buried in the same grave as Richard, feels like there is poison poured on the grave each time a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III plays. Dag can’t take the lies anymore, and so he comes back to interrupt an opening night, much to the bewilderment of the cast, crew, and audience.
The first act of Anderson’s play, which is a play within a play within a play, sets up the situation. Richard III is interrupted, the actors and crew scramble around, and Dag conjures up the “real” Richard and Anne. Richard and Anne replay a few scenes from their past.
The second act continues the story of Richard and Anne, ending shortly after Richard’s death and Henry VII’s coronation, after which Henry VII decides to vilify Richard to make himself look better by hiring a poet to rewrite history to blame his crimes on Richard and even make Richard so ugly that nobody would believe he was honest and kind.
Many of the actors play two parts—in Richard III and in the "real" story. In addition to DeVon Jackson’s Dag, especially notable are Zachary Green as the Player King/Morton, Kyle T. Jones as Richard, and Macadam Smith as Clink/Stanley. All of the players work well as an ensemble.
One joy of the Young Mirror Company’s production is the acting of the “crew” of Richard III. Those playing the director, stage manager, security guard, and other parts stay in character through the entire experience. If I’m not mistaken, for example, the "security guard" spends intermission on a cell phone calling to get police back up to clear the strangers out of the theatre. And before the play, the excited "director" circulates through the audience, thanking the patrons for coming, shaking hands, and smiling.
Ian Forester's set features metal pillars that fall forward onto cords, creating a cool supernatural-seeming effect. Malcolm Sturchio’s lighting allows actors to vanish in a flash. The fight choreographer, Dominic Tancredi, creates an admirable battle at the end, especially for such a small stage. The costumes, by Gail Cooper-Hecht, include Elizabethan period pieces and the traditional all-black costume that can be built on.
One joke of the production is that the scenes we do see from Richard III are played in a highly stylized melodramatic way with “oohs and aahs” and plenty of exaggeration. Another (and this one is addressed by Richard at the end of Richard and Anne) is that audiences love a villain. The Richard we meet in Richard and Anne—good-looking, kind, trusted, and loving—doesn’t have the same appeal as the Richard III we know. I wonder if Shakespeare would have bothered to write about him.