Review Rundown: R II

latimes1LA Times CRITICS PICK “R II” impresses most as a feat of ingenious stagecraft. The scenic design by Kaitlyn Pietras is stunningly spare, enlivened by a screen backdrop upon which lines from this most poetic of history plays are projected. Jenny Foldenauer’s costumes and props help to flesh out a world that is a purely theatrical construction, neither medieval nor modern day but some dreamlike amalgam.

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la_weekly_logo_265x70This gorgeous production shows the dignity he tries to muster upon his descent from power. He becomes far more gracious than any who surround him, as his thoughts, and the words that convey them, give beautiful expression to his plight, yet also tumble and crash into shards.

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2010-08-25 THR SketchYet while this great, less-heralded work can become, even in the most accomplished staging, a tad enervating (particularly at full-length), RII maintains its energy and daring throughout and reclaims the poetry and insight of the original with unstinting immediacy and clarifying forthrightness.

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artsinlaThe production is both beautiful—a Boston Court hallmark—and expressive. Kaitlyn Pietras sets a stark metallic throne upstage right and a sort of conference table center left as the two environments any ruler needs. There’s also a circular grid dead center, which lit from below evokes the prison environment in which the deposed Richard is confined. Key speeches are excerpted in projection (also credited to Pietras) as if to make manifest the play of thoughts in the ex-king’s mind, and Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting throughout is appropriately moody and portentous.

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LA-Theater-Critic-logo-smallBrilliantly envisioned and executed by director Jessica Kubzansky, RII [The Life and Death of King Richard the Second] at @ BostonCourt is a powerfully innovative, undeniably successful renovation of Shakespeare’s classic text.

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stage-and-cinema-small-square-box-jpgMs. Kubzansky’s version mostly tells the tale in flashbacks from Richard’s mind as he stews in his cell.  It’s an economical storytelling device, focusing the story on Richard’s biases and perceptions.  That Ms. Kubzansky deletes most of the motivation for England’s commons and nobility deciding wholesale to overthrow a king is of little concern to this vision of a personality unable to reconcile its plight with its faults.  It works, not least because Shakespeare’s Richard II is short on story and long on philosophy and exposition.  It’s a neat and effective design, greatly supported by Kaitlyn Pietras’s rich, simple set and Jeremy Pivnick’s as-ever rock-solid lighting.

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pasadenaartbeatWhen Sloan wears the crown as Richard, I can’t help but think of the willful child Max from Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s picture book “Where the Wild Things Are.” He’s a young pretender playing king amongst men who are better suited for the role.  As he loses power, this Richard matures into a reflective man, too late understanding his mistakes. This is a very different production than the PBS Great Performances “Richard II” which is part of its “The Hollow Crown” series of four Shakespeare historical plays. Both are worth seeing.

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the stage struck reviewKubzansky has reedited the play into a series of flashbacks, as the doomed Richard ponders his fate and what brought him there. And she has honed the cast of 33 named persons and assorted underlings down to three individuals. One plays Richard. The other two play the 12 other people essential to the plot. Some necessary dialogue from others has been handed to the 12, some to Richard. Stripped of its finery and its crowds, this intimate piece becomes an extraordinary celebration of those very things mentioned above: character, humanity, and articulate speech.

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