Richard II

First off, if you like Shakespeare, you will like the Pearl’s productions.

The play takes place in the 14th century, and speaks to power and identity.  It brings to mind more recent sagas, those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Ghaddafi.  These two heads of state were fabulously wealthy, yet both refused to relinquish power though it meant their certain death.  Their identities were just so tied up with power that a mere fortune meant little.  They had to be heads of state.

Just so with Richard II.  His whole identity is tied up with being king, and when he loses that he is as a car without a road, a fish without water, a bird without air;  Casanova without a woman.

The play starts with an angry pair of nobles requesting a duel to the death.  King Richard does not allow it, even after it has begun, and banishes them both, one for 6 years, the other for life, though both are willing to die for their honor.  Neither prefers banishment. 

The king jokes about self enrichment, with property, wealth and power.  The main conflict is not a violent one.  It is the surrender of a king who has lost his sense of self.

But Shakespeare, no matter how brilliantly written, and no matter how poetic the metaphors, is not for everyone.  One must follow closely a language, Elizabethan English, which differs from American English.  It is more flowery, less direct; beautiful if you get it, but easy to get lost if you don’t.

Sean McNall, an Obie winner and one of my favorite up and coming actors, is Richard.  He plays the character a bit stiffly at first, but in the second act he gives Richard his head and just wails the role.

This is not one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays so it does not sing like most of the Pearl’s productions.  And most of them do sing.  Make no mistake about that!