If your idea of Shakespeare is limited to stuffy monologues and Elizabethan tights, you obviously haven’t met Denice Hicks.
As artistic director for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Hicks is widely known for her ability to breathe new life into the old Bard with often unusual and innovative interpretations. But with its Vaudeville-style production of Richard the Third, now playing at Belmont’s Troutt Theater, NSF blurs the line of comedy and tragedy, reminding us that there is no business like the “show business” of politics.
Step right up and see one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains — and a consummate showman — as he murders and manipulates his way to the throne, wielding his charm like a poison dagger. The Tudors and Yorks are portrayed as divas and clowns, injecting no small amount of melodrama into the classic tale. But even as the body count rises, Richard continues to mesmerize us with snappy patter and deadly charisma.
Navada Shane Morgan makes a memorable Nashville debut in the title role, acting as a sort of twisted ringmaster to this bloody circus. From the very beginning we are his co-conspirators, unable to resist his wicked spell.
The supporting cast includes a healthy mix of local talent, including both NSF favorites and several Belmont students. Standouts include Nan Gurley as the “poor painted queen” Elizabeth, and Brenda Sparks, who belts out a mean torch song as the scorned Queen Margaret. R. Alex Murray and Jessejames Locorriere lend a sort of dark Laurel and Hardy feel to the murderous Catesby and Tyrrel.
June Kingsbury merits special mention for her colorful costumes, as does Anne Willingham for her effective use of lighting. And with menacing shadows lurking about its proscenium stage Troutt Theater is perfectly cast as the Vaudeville palace.
But it is director Denice Hicks who deserves a standing ovation — not only for this particularly ingenious adaptation, but for her tireless commitment to making Shakespeare accessible to modern-day audiences.
As Shakespeare himself tells us in Richard the Third: “An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.”
What: Richard the Third
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday now through Feb. 1
Where: Belmont University’s Troutt Theater, 2100 Belmont Blvd.
Cost: $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, $10 for students. Matinees are $15/$14/$8, respectively.
Info: nashvilleshakes.org, ticketsnashville.com, 255-2273
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