Richard III is that remarkable early play by Shakespeare where the Bard fully developed his villain chops, i.e., his ability to create a character that, though thoroughly despicable, can take the audience into his confidence so disarmingly and with such charm that we become virtually complicit in the crimes that are to follow. Kevin McKillip, as Richard, makes clear from his memorable first lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent”—which in this First Folio production follow the coronation of Edward IV to relate the action to the earlier history plays—exactly what his intentions are and the scheme by which he plans on stealing the crown. We can only sit back and watch it all in utter amazement as victim after victim disappear to the Tower. Never mind that the real Richard III has had an airbrushed makeover in more recent times with the proliferation of Richard III societies attempting to set the record straight—the play is the thing. Even Johnny Rotten based his Sex Pistols persona on Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s villainous Richard. Director and First Folio artistic director Alison Veseley keeps things tight and moving, but never at the expense of the rhythm of the language itself. First Folio Shakespeare productions are performed annually outdoors on the spacious and beautifully pastoral Peabody Estate, the grounds of which would make the ideal Shakespearian backdrop—but for whatever reason, in this case, a full stage and scenery were constructed, when incorporating nature itself would have been so much more effective. And despite a strong cast that acts its hearts out, there are those handful of distracting, faux British accents that also seem so needless when speaking the Bard in one’s own voice is so much more convincing. (Dennis Polkow)
“Richard III” runs at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st Street and Route 83, Oak Brook, (630)986-8067, through August 12.