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Review: Big King Richard II in a Small Space

February 16, 2018

The king is in your presence. One can see him in actor/director David Abrams, whose clear affiliation with this play, its relevance in our time brings Shakespeare’s lesser known King Richard II to the stage in Birdbath Theater’s remarkable new production.

Not only this king, but a complex web of courtiers, staring down each other in their own lust for power, banished, exiled, returned in rebellion. At the outset this shallow, intemperate king does not seem to know what he is doing, how his ill-considered whims and hasty his accommodations to those who flatter him and quick dismissals of those who don’t, will stoke the resentment of his underlings and in the end bring about his own downfall. Sound familiar?

All this takes place in a compressed theatre space carved out of the Key Tea House in San Rafael, with a raised stage at one end, and an elongated space between rows of folding chairs. The drama is between us, immediately in front of us, and drama it is.

David Abrams’ Richard evolves before our eyes, a subtly nuanced character revealed layer by layer. It is a genuine pleasure to watch Melanie Bandera-Haas dive so deeply into the depths of Shakespeare’s characters (first as the widowed Duchess of Gloucester, and then as Richard’s conflicted uncle the Duke of York) and bring them to such potent realization. Both captured the full range of the power and passion of this simmering tale of treason and its consequences.

Most of the actors (there are only eight) take on dual roles, all of them with precision and aplomb. Special note here for Rob Garcia’s moving portrayal of John of Gaunt, especially his “this England” speech, and Leon Goertzen’s turn as the Duchess of York.

The costuming, done with great ingenuity on a tiny budget, helps to further distinguish these alternating roles, and the spare stage and simple props show just how much can be done with so little, when you have such sublime acting talent making the most the Bard’s beautiful script.

If you want to have theatre in your home town, you have to patronize it, and Birdbath is definitely a company we want to keep going here, as an investment not in them, but in ourselves. We need this, we learn and grow from it. Go and see for yourself, before the short run of this amazing production comes to an end.

Run: Extended! Weekends through February 25, 2018
At: Key Tea House @ Open Secret Bookstore, 921 C Street, San Rafael, CA
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