Richard III – BAM

Lars Eidinger, Jenny König

 

by Carol Rocamora

 

He’s grotesque. He’s deformed. He’s dangerous. He’s the most charismatic character you’ve seen on stage in years, and you can’t resist him. You’re drawn to this repulsive, fascinating creature – and you’re ashamed.

Such is the seductive power of Lars Eidinger’s astonishing performance in Richard III this past week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

You’ve met Shakespeare’s greatest villain before – that “poisonous hunch-back’d toad” who murdered his way to the English throne in 1483 over two dead brothers’ bodies, not to mention countless others. Ian McKellen played him Nazi-style in the 1995 film, Kevin Spacey chewed the scenery in 2012 at BAM.

But nothing can prepare you for Eidinger’s overpowering performance in Thomas Ostermeier’s German-language production from Berlin’s Schaubühne Theatre. From the moment his towering figure crashes the depraved court party at the show’s start, clowning and careening across the stage, his limbs flailing wildly, he captures your attention utterly. It’s like watching an out-of-control one-man-show for 2 ½ uninterrupted hours – even though there are lots of other actors on stage, and fine ones, too. Whether he’s in a t-shirt and suspenders, or stark naked (yes, that, too), you can’t take your eyes off Richard and his horrible hump, marveling at what he’s going to do next and how he does it.

Sebastian Schwartz, Eva Meckbach,Thomas Bading

The genius of Eidinger’s performance is that it’s so wildly off-kilter, unpredictable – and funny. He takes us into his confidence immediately, delivering Shakespeare’s lines in German and then making wise-cracks in English, mocking the play and us for allowing ourselves to be drawn into his confidence. (“You missed the first monologue!” he shouted to a latecomer, on the night I attended.) He’s literally all over the place – climbing the scaffolding of Jan Pappelbaum’s spare set, or running up and down the aisles of the Harvey Theatre. But he’s most magnetic when he plants himself center stage on the dirt floor. A black cord hangs down from the ceiling with a microphone, from which Richard openly shares his dark purposes with undisguised glee.

Like an evil emcee, he tells us of his plan to marry Lady Anne (Jenny König), wife of a nobleman he has just slain. This lurid seduction scene takes place over the dead man’s coffin – and within five minutes, Anne succumbs. “Was ever woman in this humor wooed? Was ever woman in this humor won? I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long,” he confides in us, stripping naked in exultation. And we follow him in shock and disbelief, as he masterminds the bloody demise of his brother Clarence (Christoph Gawenda), hastens the death of his ailing brother King Edward (Thomas Bading), and throws his nephews into the tower. After he’s murdered the boys, he proposes marriage to their young sister through their mother Elizabeth (Eva Meckbach). The more outrageous his daring, the more we fear and admire him.

Lars Eidinger

 

Ostermeier is known for his hard-hitting, merciless interpretations of the classics – and this Richard finds him at the top of his game. It’s a spellbinding production, punctuated with deafening rock music (by Nils Ostendorf) accompanied by a live onstage drummer (Thomas Witte). To add to the grotesquerie, Richard’s young nephews are played by two life-sized puppets, manipulated by the company members.

The production takes a strange turn when the newly crowned King Richard unceremoniously takes a seat on a makeshift throne, wearing only his black crown, his hump, and a pair of white underpants. A pall settles over this frantically paced production. On the upstage wall, a bizarre video appears to project a malignant amoeba devouring healthy blood cells. It’s Richard’s descent into paranoia, as he dreams of his ultimate defeat in the upcoming battle against Richmond. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” he cries – in a void. He is alone.

The battle is taking place inside his twisted mind, projected through a camera that hangs alongside the microphone. The image evokes another leader – a current one – who inspires in many of us both a lurid fascination and our very worst fears.

Photos: Richard Termine

 

Shakespeare’s Richard III, translation/adaptation by Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, a Schaubühne Berlin production, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, October 11-14.

www.Bam.org

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