Go tell it on Twitter: #RichardIIIisBloodyGood
It's Shakespeare time for Park Slope's Gallery Players
Bad to the bone. That’s our Richard.
As in Richard III, one of the most mesmerizing villains in all of Shakespeare.
A theatre group with a presence in Brooklyn for the past half-century, the Gallery Players, has found a terrific actor to play the perfidious, power-hungry Plantagenet.
R.J. Foster makes it very worth your while to take the trip to 14th Street and Fourth Avenue in Park Slope to the Gallery Players’ theatre for “Richard III,” the Bard’s brilliant, blood-soaked tragedy about a medieval English monarch’s brother with an unholy lust to possess the crown himself.
Spread the word on Twitter: #RichardIIIisBloodyGood
Foster has a sonorous voice, the skills to make Richard’s evil charisma shine forth and a superb command of Shakespeare.
He has been in numerous regional Shakespeare productions, including the Gallery Players’ “Othello” and a full season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He has appeared in TV series including “The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods” and “Damages.”
The director of this modern-dress production of “Richard III,” Robin Leslie Brown, is a founding resident actress of the Pearl Theatre Company, a Manhattan troupe that focuses on Shakespeare and the classics.
She has performed in most of the Bard’s plays, and also directed several seasons of new plays for the Gallery Players’ Black Box Festival.
‘I am determined to prove a villain’
Written around 1592 or 1593, “Richard III” was the Bard’s first blockbuster.
According to Shakespeare scholar Mark Eccles, it was one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite plays. Lincoln knew Richard’s famed soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” by heart.
And what a soliloquy. Richard paints a picture of glorious peace that has finally come to his nation — which doesn’t suit him in the least. He’s a “deformed, unfinished” man, so ugly that dogs bark at him when he passes by them, he says.
“Since I cannot prove a lover,” he warns, “I am determined to prove a villain.”
For part of the famous speech, Foster steps up the center aisle stairs in the intimate 99-seat theatre to look audience members in the eye, the better to win our complicity in the Machiavellian machinations he’s planning.
The verses in Richard’s soliloquy are the very first words spoken in the play, which makes perfect sense.
He’s the star of this tragedy, and devises most of the dramas that unfold — though the other characters often don’t realize the terrible things that happen are his fault.
His diabolical schemes win him the crown that his brother, King Edward IV, wears at the outset of the play.
A ‘hellhound’ becomes the King of England
The brutal candor of the opening soliloquy gives way to suave lies when Richard is with other characters, whether foes or allies. His seemingly sincere smile increases in wattage the more he piles on the falsehoods.
In an astonishing feat of feigned romantic ardor, he woos and wins Lady Anne (played by an incandescent Brittany Brook) as she follows the coffin of her father-in-law King Henry VI, who had been slain by Richard. She’s the widow of Edward, Prince of Wales, who also had been killed by Richard.
Much of Richard’s scheming involves murders, often of close relatives.
As Queen Margaret, Henry VI’s mean-mouthed widow, says to Richard’s mother (played by Reet Roos Varnik), “From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept/A hellhound that doth hunt us all to death.”
Queen Margaret is a furious prophetess of doom (played superbly by Nancy Rich) with crazy eyes and hands like a bird of prey’s talons.
Later, Richard’s mother rains curses on him: “Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end,” she says.
Another monarch whose role is handled superbly is that of Queen Elizabeth (Katherine Puma plays her), Edward IV’s wife, whose young sons are murdered by an assassin Richard has hired.
In case you’ve forgotten, this is the play in which Richard III famously cries out on the battlefield, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
After that, Richard goes mano a mano with the Earl of Richmond, who is soon to become King Henry VII (played just right as a pious Boy Scout by Nick Vicinanzo).
Or rather, it starts as a one-on-one face-off. Reinforcements step in to aid Richmond. It takes three men to kill Richard.
It turns out that Richard, bad to the bone when it comes to plotting and scheming, is also a badass on the field of battle.
The Gallery Players’ production of “Richard III” runs through July 31.
The group’s theatre is located at 199 14th St.
Go to galleryplayers.com to see a schedule of performances and buy tickets. Or call Ovationtix at 212-352-3101.
Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for senior citizens and children age 12 and under.