A Review of Folger Theater’s “Richard III”

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Photo by Carol Rosegg.

If you were mainlining the second “House of Cards” season this weekend, do yourself a favor and head over to the Folger Shakespeare Library to see one of Frank Underwood’s forebears at work: Richard III.

The production is sharp and focused, with a sparse set, skeleton cast and relatively understated costumes. Drew Cortese plays the title villain with visible relish: his Richard enjoys the dark, bloody ride to the throne almost as much as the thought of the crown itself.

Such is Cortese’s talent that you’ll enjoy it right along with him, although the feeling is complicated. The audience wasn’t quite sure what to do during the scene in which Richard is “convinced” by public opinion to become king. Some clapped enthusiastically when his henchmen proclaimed him a legitimate contender for the throne, only to stop abruptly, realizing they were cheering on a ruthless criminal.

The supporting ensemble in this play has somewhat of a thankless task—the most they get to do is react to Richard’s transgressions and suffer the consequences of their own actions, making them less interesting and unlikeable—but they do a solid job. Julia Motyka’s Queen Elizabeth is a little one-note; her self-righteous anger and her shame look much the same. Naomi Jacobson, however, is fascinating to watch as Queen Margaret. Her scenes, while designed to be show-stealing, are particularly refreshing.

The show runs through March 9. While the tickets aren’t cheap, they’re a worthy investment.

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