What a weekend it was for battles in the Quad Cities. Professional golfers matched strokes at the John Deere Classic. WCW wrestlers brawled at The MARK. But a battle of wits - a wrestling match of a subtler kind - was found at Rock Island's Lincoln Park on Saturday night in the Genesius Guild production of Shakespeare's Richard III.
This is a tale of Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, and his treacherous climb to the throne of England, and it is rife with lies, deception, and murder. A play with these dramatic elements, particularly one written by Shakespeare, presents special challenges, but under the direction of Matt Walsh, the Genesius Guild does an admirable job.
Historically, Shakespeare's plays were written and performed when theatre as we know it was in its infancy. There wasn't the luxury of closed theatres, elaborate sets, or high-tech lighting and sound. Plays were performed out of doors. Actors were subject to audiences of a capricious, rowdy nature and the fickle whim of the weather. The Genesius Guild Theatre is an intimate outdoor venue and therefore the perfect place to imagine how Shakespeare's plays were originally performed. Saturday's audience was wonderful, unlike those of old, and they were prepared for an evening of classical outdoor theatre.
Shakespeare sets the scene with his words, and it is the actors' responsibility to convey the time, the place, and the mood of the piece. Set designer Earl Strupp remained true to those restrictions. With only minor additions to the theatre's permanent stone structure, Strupp was able to create the perfect backdrop for the actors to work with. The palace, a street, the dreaded Tower of London were easily imagined while watching the action unfold. Adding to the flavor of this historical piece were the costumes designed by Ellen Dixon and Jessica Johnson, with rich fabrics and designs accurate for the time. The actors looked stunning.
There are a handful of principal roles in Richard III that actors love to sink their teeth into, but Shakespeare's style requires much of actors. Not only are they speaking English as it was written more than 400 years ago, but they are speaking words that are intricately woven together to create poetic and subtle characterizations. Performing these roles demands more than memorizing the lines.
The Genesius Guild's veteran cast handles this job very well, giving the audience clear and precise performances. The most notable of these was Pat Flaherty as Richard: The sly, pathetic, evil, and manipulative lead was easily seen and understood. Flaherty also brought just the right amount of physical representation to Richard's deformity - an aspect of the character that is often overdone.
My only complaint with the acting comes with the level of intensity; it started at the top and remained there, and there wasn't any room for growth in the characters' conflicts as the play progressed. Most of all, it seemed that subtle characterizations within the roles were lost. But this is a minor criticism in an otherwise fine production.
Until midway through the second act, Mother Nature's touch only enhanced the dark ambiance of Richard III. It was cool and damp as the remnants of a late afternoon rain dripped off the trees surrounding the theatre. Then the rains came. As it must have been 400 or so years ago, the cast, crew, and audience raced for cover. Richard will get his just desserts, but they will have to wait until August 4th (an added performance), 5th and 6th.