NextStop Theatre Richard IIIBy David Siegel • Feb 12th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
NextStop Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon, VA
Through February 23rd
2:30 with intermission
Reviewed February 1st, 2014
NextStop Theatre has taken a nervy step and pulled it off with its unique production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. NextStop has fruitfully re-imagined a major Shakespearean villain in a new way. Rather than the usual physical deformity-laden depiction of Richard, this King Richard is a Deaf man, determined to make-it in a hearing world. He is as ruthless as ever.
Director Dr. Lindsey D. Snyder explores “a world where a perceived disability drives expectations. Not only the expectations of society on an individual, but the expectations of an individual of himself” as she wrote in her program notes. Her King Richard is not only a Hard of Hearing character, but played by a Deaf actor who uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. While perhaps not an artistic choice, he is also visibly shorter than just about all the other male characters on stage with him.
Snyder’s Richard (played admirably by Deaf actor and Gallaudet professor Ethan Sinnott) is a visibly frustrated presence. The full cast is composed of both Deaf and hearing actors. The hearing characters seem to blow him off at the start. They will pay a high price for this disrespect as Shakespeare’s play progresses to its fore-ordained conclusion.
In an earlier interview, Snyder indicated that her directorial concept was to “present Richard as isolated. He is Hard of Hearing. He can’t easily share thoughts with the other characters.” Snyder serves as an Adjunct Professor at Gallaudet University. She regularly works with the Kennedy Center, Ford’s Theater, and Synetic to name a few. She is also Director of Access and Inclusion for the DC-based Faction of Fools theater company.
With the NextStop production of Richard III, the hearing audience has the opportunity to listen to The Bard’s text and rhetoric, both as spoken and with its ASL embodiment. Right from the start with its famous “this is the winter of our discontent” opening, we observe an aggravated and quite agitated Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He is attempting, with little success, to make himself understood by the hearing characters on stage with him.
We, as the audience, have an easier time of it. There are several ingenious ways used to give voice to Sinnott’s expressive ASL performance before us. When Richard signs using ASL, there are several crafty means so that the audience can hear Shakespeare’s words simultaneously. For instance, a film covered mirror comes alive with a shadowy, essence of Richard (Daniel Corey who later also plays Richmond, the man who will become King after Richard III) who speaks the words. In other scenes, some of Richard’s temporary allies (a smooth, mellow Sun King Davis as right-hand man Buckingham and Ben Lauer as the crafty Catesby) voice his words while standing just behind him somewhere in a world of grey lighting between shadow and light.
Under Snyder’s direction, at first, the hearing characters pay Richard little heed. They look at him as if he is almost a clown. He tries to gain the audience’s sympathy and win trust even as he decides to “prove a villain” plotting to kill off his rivals, whether man, woman or child, to become King Richard III. He will prove himself worthy of attention and respect in his own hot-tempered manner. As the play progresses, Richard is as villainous and sneaky as The Bard wrote him. With Sinnott’s acting talents and his use of ASL with expressive body and facial movements, we can, if open to it, see and hear a fresh way to absorb Shakespeare’s language and rhetoric. This may not be for everyone or those with a more traditional view of how the malleable Shakespeare is to be performed.
For this reviewer, the overall issues of communication came most strongly to the fore in several scenes which are done totally in ASL. These are scenes where the character Richard is able to easily connect easily with other characters and played by Hard of Hearing actors, such as Sandra Mae Frank as a clearly conscious-riddled murderer, using ASL to communicate. There is silence on stage as the characters speak to each other through ASL. Now it is the hearing members of the audience who can be at the disadvantage. They can feel their own communication frustrations. It is quite effective.
Some other highlights include a divine mocking moment, at least to your reviewer, when a hearing character (played by Zach Brewster-Geisz ) speaks oh-so-slowly and loudly to the Deaf character Richard hoping to make a connection. Priceless. As the old croon, Queen Margaret, who has lost husband and other relatives at the hands of the murderous Richard, Mary Suib is a center of curses delivered not with loudness but with depth of heart; passion through gritted teeth.
The production does have its flaws. There are any number of moments in which some actors seem to stand around inertly, neither moving or in acting character. They seem not to know what to do with themselves when out of the speaking spotlight. They are “not in the moment” of the performance. Given its cast of 13 playing double that number of characters there is also a mix of acting skill levels. Some interactions between the hearing and Deaf actors seem stiff and awkward, but that may well change over the run of the play.
The setting by JD Masten with its hall of cracking mirrors and noirish lighting design by Sarah Tundermann are quite effective in presenting a wobbly, dark essence of a world. The preshow music by Stan Harris and costumes by Erin Nugent lets the audience know this will not be a medieval setting, but in a time more unexpected contemporary in nature.
Shakespeare wrote these lines for one Richard’s henchmen who helps murder Richard’s two young nephews and heir to the Throne of England. “Talkers are no good doers: be assur’d. We go to use our hands, and not our tongues.” In this Richard III the audience gets to see those words made visible and flare in a unique manner.
With NextStop’s Richard we have a fresh way to widen our horizons and explore Shakespeare in a new way; if we are game for it. Take a chance and see for yourself.
- Richard of Gloucester/Richard III: Ethan Sinnott
- Buckingham: Sun King Davis
- Richmond/Richard Shadow: Daniel Corey
- Hastings/Lord Mayor: Zack Brewster-Geisz
- Catesby/Murderer: Ben Lauer
- Princess Elizabeth/Murderer: Sandra Mae Frank
- Lady Anne/Grey: Rachel Spicknall Mulford
- Queen Elizabeth: Carolyn Kashner
- Clarence/Stanley: Kevin Collins
- Ratcliff/Norfolk/Tyrell: Charles Ainsworth
- Brackenbury/Rivers/Edward: Bill Fleming
- Duchess of York: Marilyn Bennett
- Queen Margaret: Mary Suib
- Director: Lindsey D. Snyder
- Production Manager: Theresa Bender
- Flight Director: Casey Kaleba
- Props Designer/Asst Director: Kristen Pilgrim
- Stage Manager: Samantha Owen
- Scenic Designer: JD Madsen
- Scenic Painter: Michelle Urcuyo
- Costume Designer: Erin Nugent
- Lighting Designer: Sarah Tundermann
- Master Electrician: Brian Stefaniak
- Sound Designer: Stan Harris
Disclaimer: NextStop Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10139.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.