RICHARD II Holds Court at Quintessence Theatre Group

by Ginger Agnew

Two Shakespeare works RICHARD II and AS YOU LIKE IT are currently running in rotating repertory at Quintessence Theatre Group. The same cast of thirteen men undertakes both through November 8th , under the direction of Alexander Burns. RICHARD II is a dramatic piece which allows the actors to explore internal angst, while AS YOU LIKE IT is a romp for actors who can spread comedy wings. RICHARD II is a magnificent, not-to-be-missed theatrical experience. (AS YOU LIKE IT has been reviewed separately).

The plotline here is worth reading before arriving at the theater. There are many intricately interwoven characters and plotline twists and turns, as cousins fight for a kingdom. Richard II is a young sitting king, with a tenuous hold on his kingdom, as his cousin Henry Bolingbrook is set on taking power for himself. Both Richard II and Bolingbrook have stalwart followers and supporters, along with harsh enemies. The demise of the reign of King Richard II, orchestrated by Bolingbrook, is the main storyline. Friendship lost and found, duty to country, loss of identity, remorse for, and the consequences of, acting rashly are all themes Shakespeare explores. It will enhance understanding of the story, and the multiple characters, to read about the plot points and character relationships before going.

Many of the traditional all male ensemble of actors portray characters in multiple roles. This show is cast to perfection. James-Patrick Davis is exquisite as Richard II. Davis embodies Richard, and delivers the kind of organic performance that leaves acting behind and is a metamorphosis. His transformation from a seemingly spoiled child king, to soldier, and further to a broken man who denies and then embraces his undoing, is breathtaking. His Christ-like dénouement fills hearts with sadness.

Alan Brincks (as Fitzwater), Carlo Campbell (as Northumberland), Lee Croptopassi (as Bollingbrook), James-Patrick Davis (as Richard II), Sean Close (as Aumerle). (Photo by Shawn May)

Lee Cortopassi brings Henry Bolingbrook to life with explosive energy. Cortopassi is the cousin we hate to love. Alan Brincks, in multiple roles, clearly defines each with gesture, accent, stance, movement and vocal changes. He is as much chameleon as actor. Paul Hebron (The Duke of York) makes every stage moment count and helps define relationships and plotline. We feel for him, and cry with him, as he travels a road in life filled with love and despair in equal measure. Ryan Walter makes the most of each of his emotionally charged, vastly varied characters. Andrew Betz breaks hearts in the final moments of the play, leaving all at odds with the decision of Exton, the last of his multiple, finely crafted characters. Matt Tallman handily portrays multiple male roles, but steals the scene once embodying a distressed Duchess of York. Stephen Novelli plays on the sympathies of all as John of Gaunt, and delivers his other characters with ease. Carlo Campbell (Northumberland) cuts a commanding figure throughout. Alexander Harvey uses his skill to fill many roles with distinction. Connor Hammond shows duality when portraying manliness and femininity, softness and strength, as both Queen and Harry Percy. Sean Close (Aumerle) creates a conflicted and contrite character using well defined decisions and admirable acting skill. Ashton Carter made meaningful choices while bringing multiple souls to life. There was not one actor who didn’t pour his heart into the role or roles played. Each actor deserves the highest praise for the excellence he brought to this stage.

Using modern dress, in tandem with Elizabethan garb, the costuming is never distracting, but always enhancing the characters and story. The flexibility of scaffolding as the upstage set allows plenty of open playing area, and creates important and interesting levels for the actors. The one prop of a wood throne is just enough to create the sought after throne room. A crown and scepter further enhance the personal aspect of becoming King of England. These minimal elements allow the acting to shine. The director makes this story accessible and even infuses some humor when things seem the most bleak.

Shakespearean scholars and novices alike will marvel at the intensity, command of the stage, and acting skill of this ensemble. As the companion piece to AS YOU LIKE IT, RICHARD II is notably nothing like the former. Filled with drama, and tragedy, the pinches of humor are a welcome relief to break the tension. Tears flow freely both on stage and in the audience. Unparalleled performances grace the stage of this Philadelphia theater. Philadelphians will fill with pride for local theater when experiencing these performances, this production and this kind of profound artistic endeavor. Buy tickets early and often, as Quintessence Theatre Group’s stellar production of RICHARD II is a must see.

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alexander Burns
October 11 – November 8, 2014
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7137 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119

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