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Cincy Shakes performs Richard II

By John Appledorn
On January 24, 2013

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is already renowned for their fantastic performances of Shakespeare's plays, as well as for their stage adaptations of other literary works (e.g. Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest). Their most recent pro- duction of Richard II, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, is once again one of truly exceptional quality and is by far one of their more ambitious endeavors. This production marks the first in Cincy Shakes' cycle of
Shakespeare's history plays; by the end of the 2014 season, they will have performed the entire Shakespeare canon over their 20 year history. The play tells the story of young Richard (Brent Vimtrup) and his loss of power, family and identity due to his lavish and self-centered rule as the king of 14th century England. As his personal wishes and demands continuously inter- fere with the needs of the state, the more his ties with nobility and family deteriorate. The acting is superb, especially because it brings life and vigor to a text that is not usually per- formed. Brent Vimtrup offers-
both a humor- ous and poignant performance as the troubled Richard, and the dramatic tension onstage between Vimtrup and Jim Hopkins as Henry Bolingbroke pro- duces both an exhausting and entertaining in- tensity. The en- semble is espe- cially dynamic, including sea- soned veterans (i.e. Jeremy Dubin and Nick Rose), and season debut performances (Sam Rabinovitz). The lighting and staging is breathtaking and captures well the intensity of plot, and offers an at- mosphere that heightens the men- tal and emotional chaos of young Richard. One of the challenges in stag- ing the first of a series of history plays is providing the audience with proper context without bog- ging them down with a litany of names. Dr. Niamh O'Leary, professor of English and Shakespeare scholar at Xavier, is impressed with Cincy Shakes' approach to kicking off this first play in the history cycle. It begins with a prologue in the form of a brief narration of the
history of the English kings, with lighting shifting to paintings of the kings themselves on the stage. "It is a daunting task to take
on all eight history plays, and this prologue did a wonderful job in- troducing them," O'Leary said. "With respect to the cast, the fact that they will be using the same ac- tors throughout the history cycle gives a great sense of continuity." Cincy Shakes' Richard II in its en- tirety is an incredible production, and kicks off the Shakespeare history play cycle with poise and brilliance. Performances run through Feb. 3. More information can be found on their website www.cincyshakes. com

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