Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. between Ashland & Rockwell Pl.
Through March 4, $30-$135
As the audience enter BAM’s Harvey Theater for the Bridge Project production of Richard III, the word Now is glowing on a makeshift curtain, announcing not only the first word of the concluding work in Shakespeare’s War of the Roses tetralogy but the time in which the play takes place. When the curtain rises, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, is sitting in a chair, a flat-screen video monitor behind him showing his brother, King Edward IV (Andrew Long), as Kevin Spacey intones those famous lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York; / And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” The technology at the opening might indicate the play is set in the modern day, but the rest of this version of Richard III, a coproduction of BAM, Sam Mendes’s Neal Street Productions, and the Old Vic, headed by Spacey, is a timeless story of the intense desire for power. Taking on the iconic role previously played onstage by the likes of John Barrymore, Alec Guinness, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, and Al Pacino and, most famously, on film by Laurence Olivier, Spacey is delightfully devilish as he orchestrates the murder of anyone and everyone who stands in the way of his ascent to the throne of England.
Spacey, walking with a limp that is part Porgy, part Roger “Verbal” Kint (his character in The Usual Suspects), regularly turns to the audience and makes funny faces and gestures, mugging with a wicked sense of humor as he lasciviously betrays his brother Clarence (Chandler Williams), Queen Elizabeth (Haydn Gwynne), the Duke of Buckingham (Chuk Iwuji), and even his own mother, the Duchess of York (Maureen Anderman). In one of the play’s most potent scenes, the hunchbacked Richard woos Lady Anne (Annabel Scholey), even as her husband, the Prince of Wales, lies on his back murdered, blood still oozing out of his body. Tom Piper’s set is a three-sided whitewashed wall of eighteen doors through which characters enter and leave; in the shorter second act, the stage opens up into a long, narrowing pathway that seems to go on forever, particularly effective during the battle scene; the Harvey bursts with energy when Richard, dressed like a crazed dictator, marches his way from the back, pounding his cane like a royal scepter. Spacey, who cut his Gloucester teeth playing Buckingham in Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard, a thorough examination of the work viewed from numerous angles, does at times get a little too cutesy, and several of the actors in minor roles deliver stilted lines, but director Mendes — the two previously teamed up on the Oscar-winning American Beauty — does a good job keeping the delicious story centered and focused. The final production of the Bridge Project, which in past years combined American and British actors in The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, As You Like It, and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, this version of Richard III is fun and fanciful, funny and frightening, a fitting finale to this unique three-year collaboration.