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Historical dramas can vary widely in tone. Robert Bolt's worshipful A Man for All Seasons gave us a Thomas More almost too good to be true, and contemporary British playwright Peter Morgan has created warts-and-all portraits of living people — TV host David Frost in Frost/Nixon and Queen Elizabeth II in the movie The Queen. These characters were so infused with humanity that one couldn't help feeling empathy for them.
Shakespeare's Richard III, currently receiving a fine revival at People's Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, is an entirely different animal. This character is an unadulterated monster, coolly plotting the murders of everyone who stands between him and the throne, even his two little nephews. Some history buffs believe that Richard was actually a decent man and that Shakespeare bought into libelous propaganda created by Richard's Tudor successors. But Shakespeare's Richard is so entertainingly evil, especially when he takes the audience into his confidence, that the play is hard to resist, regardless of its historical validity.
Any production of this play stands or falls on its leading actor, and Pete Pryor is splendid in the role. He's at turns frightening and repulsive, and he taps into the currents of extremely dark humor that underlie the character.
He's ably supported by a cast of nine People's Light company members, all of whom take on multiple roles. Standouts include Christopher Patrick Mullen as the Duke of Buckingham, who is Richard's chief ally through most of the play but ends up a bitter enemy; Alda Cortese as former Queen Margaret, who gives Richard a memorable tongue-lashing early in the play; Stephen Novelli as the Duke of Stanley, Richard's brother, who is one of his first victims; and Margaret Ivey as Lady Anne, the object of Richard's lascivious desires.
Jorge Cousineau's innovative set is an urban wasteland, reflecting the rot that has set in at the British court.
Director Samantha Reading keeps the action moving smoothly and swiftly. She also occasionally makes effective use of video projection, especially in the dream sequence preceding the climactic Battle of Bosworth Field, in which all of Richard's victims appear to him in his sleep and prophetically wish him defeat and death.
What, When, Where
Richard III by William Shakespeare. Samantha Reading directed. Through April 24 at People's Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern. (610)644-3500 or peopleslight.org.
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