Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Times-Dispatch Review of "Richard II"

I have known for a while that the Richmond Shakespeare Theatre's production of Richard II (of which I'm proud to be a small part of the cast) was going to be something special. The Richmond Time-Dispatch's Susan Haubenstock evidently agrees.

An excerpt:

'Richard II' a true thrill to behold
Shakespeare troupe serves history play on a silver platter

Sunday, Oct 14, 2007 - 12:08 AM Updated: 06:37 AM


I've left plays at intermission only twice in my life. Twenty-five years ago I walked out of an off-Broadway performance of "Richard II" starring no less a figure than William Hurt as Richard. It was crashingly, stultifyingly dull.

Richmond Shakespeare has redeemed "Richard" for me.

In a thrilling production of Shakespeare's history play -- prequel to the company's "Henry IV, Part 1" from their summer season at Agecroft Hall -- director James Ricks shows how successful the company's signature approach can be.

Focusing on language, with pared-down cast, simple lighting effects and virtually no set, Ricks conducts an exciting cast of actors who illuminate the captivating drama. Aided mightily by Rebecca Cairns' rich costumes, and with a minimal but effective sound design of his own making, Ricks manages the beautiful verse of the playwright and the unparalleled energy of the actors with aplomb.

I can see William Hurt being a bore as King Richard II. It's a very talky role, and it takes a special actor to make him anything other than pitiable and annoying.

Fortunately, our Mike Newman is a very, very special actor, who doesn't speak the words so much as attack them. I'm amazed every night at Richard's strength and dignity, the real nobility of his spirit growing as his worldly nobility is stripped away.

As anyone who has talked with me recently knows, Richard II is my favorite play in the entire Shakespearean canon. I love the themes, the language is arguably Shakespeare's best, and it interests me far more as a psychological study than even Hamlet. Richard is a great role, but it's Henry Bolingbroke who really intrigues me. Jeff Schmidt has wrapped himself around the future King Henry IV in a performance that matches or exceeds his superb Antony last year.

But the actor I'm really excited about is Stephen Ryan, and I'm so pleased that Ms. Haubenstock picked him out as well. Stephen is an unusual actor type (I know the feeling) and it's got to be somewhat rare for him to find a role that fits his natural strengths as well as the Duke of York does. York is strong and passionate in some instances, but weak and indecisive in others, and his decision to remain neutral in the civil conflict renders all King Richard's military might completely impotent. Stephen's performance is one of my favorites in the show because you can always see the strength of York in his weakness, and his weakness in his strength. It's just great.

The whole cast is excellent, if I do say so myself, on a very similar level to those of Henry IV, Part I or The Taming of the Shrew. I love the whole cast. Elise Boyd's dignified Bishop of Carlisle, Jude Fageas' unforgettable rehearsal humor and Lord Jamal, Jennie Meharg's wounded yet towering Queen Isabel, Julie Phillips' seven disparate characters, Stephen Seals playing both Jeff's father and mine with total commitment, and John Witkiewicz's marvelously smarmy Aumerle combine for a marvelous ensemble. James Ricks was one of my favorite directors ever; we never seemed to be working very hard yet so much got done so quickly. Stage Manager Heather Johnson, tiny little thing that she is, brilliantly manages to keep all ten of us pointed in the right direction. And Rebecca and Annie knock the costumes out of the park once again.

I hope you'll all come out to see it.

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  • At 10/19/2007 5:13 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    We read that review in class, as an example of what a good theatre review is.

  • At 10/20/2007 2:56 AM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Congratulations to all, it is a fantastic effort. Great acting, great ensemble, wonderful direction and just phenomenal storytelling.

    By the way, thanks for the Book, Andrew. I really appreciate it. It's one of the few Sox related books I've never gotten a chance to read, and I love it. Wear your Schillshirt proudly tomorrow. Curt started the 'Game Thread' for tomorrow on the 'Sons of Sam Horn' website last night around 11:30. It is freaking awesome that he interacts with the members of Red Sox Nation like he does. He's one of us, and he carries our hopes & dreams into battle. I'm all about Game Six. As Mike Timlin says:

    "We're not gonna quit. If you knock us out, that's fine. But you're gonna get the best we've got."

    That's all any fan can ask for. So Tribe, don't start selling those WS tees just yet...

  • At 10/20/2007 12:19 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Enjoy game 6, Scott and Andrew! Me, I'm hoping my YOOVEEAY Cavs can take home win number 7 tonight in College Park. Let's make some turtle soup, Hoos!

    As for Richard: I'll be there November 1 brother. Was hoping to make it sooner but there's just stuff going on with other shows and personal commitments...but I look forward to it!

  • At 10/21/2007 1:29 AM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...


  • At 10/21/2007 2:27 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Okay, we digress from the original post, but what the hey...

    Last night was one of the most phenomenal nights of sports EVER! Scott, I knew you and Mr. Wham would be glued to the tube last night (at least, immediately following your show Andrew) to watch the Bosox. I flipped over to it during halftime of the UVA-Maryland game, and saw that unbelievable third inning, and thought "Oh my God, this is a massacre!" It seemed like the Tribe just came completely unglued at the very moment the Sox put it all together - hitting, running bases, and capitalizing on mistakes (how do you hit a runner in the HEAD when he's caught between bases? Has anyone ever seen THAT before???) That, in essence, WAS the game it seemed!

    But back to my Wahoos: My boys looked for all the world like they were gonna toss this one away. And the blame was gonna be squarely on the head of the offensive coordinator, Mike Groh...I mean, how do you face a third and one, in the opponent's half of the field, and NOT make the first down because you run successive quarterback sneaks - which get stuffed? STUPID!!! But the Cavs would NOT throw in the towel. Chris Long (Huey's little boy) just totally FACED the Maryland QB in the end zone for a safety, and shortly afterwards the Hoos put together one of the most improbable drives to win a game I have EVER seen - overcoming a fourth and FOUR to get a first down before diving in for a TD with less than a minute to go. Hoos 18, Terps 17 to spoil the now 4-3 Terps' homecoming! God, I love college football!!!

    Enjoy game seven tonight fellers, this is gonna be a beauty!

  • At 10/22/2007 9:56 AM , Anonymous philip hamm said...

    I agree with the review. Excellent presentation of a very challenging piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  • At 10/22/2007 10:29 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Congrats to all you sock’s fans. If the Mets couldn't make it into the series I am at least glad your team did and NOT those damn Yankees! On another note Frank and I are coming together to see Richard II on the 1st. Of course we must go out for adult beverages afterwards!

  • At 10/22/2007 10:31 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Oh dear...I meant "SOX"!

  • At 10/22/2007 7:58 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    What a comeback. Dennis Kucinich just punched a baby in the face.

  • At 10/22/2007 8:45 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Scott that is the funniest freakin' shit I've heard in four months!

    And Mr. Wham - Jacquie is correct, your presence is requested sir for after-show refreshments Thursday evening, November 1st. You are kindly asked not to puss out. Thank you.

  • At 10/23/2007 11:51 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    How can one "kindly" ask "not to puss out"?

    GO FREAKIN SOX! It's Rox vs. Sox in the World Series!

  • At 10/24/2007 6:36 PM , Anonymous phil hamm said...

    I can see William Hurt being a bore as King Richard II. It's a very talky role, and it takes a special actor to make him anything other than pitiable and annoying.

    I don't know about that. The role itself seemed written as pretty "pitiable and annoying" to begin with. His bipolar waffling when he was still king and knew his fate to come, his wierd soliloquy (sp?) in his cell. A challenging character to play - maybe because the Richard of the play really is a nutty character. You almost root for his deposition by the end of the play, but not his murder.

  • At 10/24/2007 7:52 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I thought, Andrew, that if I asked kindly while also denigrating your masculinity in a prototypical, high-school-locker-room manner, it would prompt the appropriate response: Honoring my request while still leaving the details of your behavior that given evening up to your own discretion.

    Time will tell if my ploy has been effective.

  • At 11/01/2007 2:56 PM , Blogger terry said...

    On another note:
    Ange, am I going to love this Henry as much as I did the delectable Phil Brown??

  • At 11/02/2007 12:26 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Well, this is Henry's father, younger than when we see him. I'd say it's unlikely, honestly. As much as I love Jeff Schmidt, my dear dear friend Schmidtty, he doesn't have that jump-his-bones-at-the-first-possible-opportunity magnetism of Phil Brown.

    However, you WILL get to see me doing my best James Ricks impersonation as the younger Henry Percy.


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