Richard Lieben Richard

I thought I had seen my zaniest Richard III in Mark Rylance, and before that in Kevin Spacey.  But compared to Lars Eidinger, these performances feel like those of mildly rambunctious children.  Mr. Eidinger abandons all pretense that Richard is an adult—or even a human being—and before the night is over, he has sat naked and spread-eagled on his throne, urinated on the stage, and lead the audience in a collective shaming of Buckingham (Moritz Gottwald): “You look like shit!” he cries through laughter after smearing Buckingham’s face with brown food, “Have you eaten any pussy yet today?”  Near the end of the production, he covers his own face in food, this time pasty and white, giving him the look of a nightmarish clown.  His Richard, it seems, is willing to sow chaos whenever he gets the chance.  In this context, then, his suicidal reign becomes clearer: it is simply one more chance for destruction, even if that destruction is of the self.

In case it is not yet clear, this is the best Shakespeare I’ve seen in quite some time.  Backed by a soundtrack of aggressive drumming, it is a manic, hysterical experience.  When Mr. Eidinger recites his monologues, he does so into a hanging microphone/flashlight that echoes the one used by Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet, except that it also has a camera, allowing his frenzied visage to be tower behind him.  Occasionally, he will walk downstage—his feverish breathing more audible than his words—stopping only when the cord is taut, as if he were a junkyard dog reaching the end of his leash.  His Richard doesn’t even appear interested in rule, only in its seizure by chicanery.  After receiving a good laugh from the audience, he’ll often bask in the admiration, and the line between the actor and Richard becomes hazy; does this would-be king care more about entertainment and outrage than he does about power?

I’ll freely admit that Richard III has never ranked high in my mind, at least compared with other works by Shakespeare.  But the puckish spirit here is both overwhelming and contagious.  Thus, I rediscovered piquancy in a text that had long lost most of its flavor for me.

Richard III runs through October 14th at the BAM Harvey Theater.  651 Fulton Street  Brooklyn, NY.  2 hours 45 minutes.  No intermission.  In German with English supertitles.

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