Shakespearing #49 by Chelsea Alice
Shakespeare’s Richard II—adapted by Trent Stephens for Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival—features startling symbolism, unique special effects, and a fine cast.
The location, the Seabreeze Amphitheater at Carlin Park in Jupiter, was cozy and inviting, the sea breeze sweeping in from the beach. The K & J Seafood truck, where the Williams family serves arguably the best seafood in the area, was steps away. The experience offered some of the best of everything, but the actual seats. One must bring one’s own seating or picnic blankets.
Before the play commenced, Elizabeth Dashiell, the producer, shared a bit about the history, significance, and mission of the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival. Often such introductions are dull, but Dashiell’s passion and dedication captivated the audience’s curiosity and excitement.
The first impression rested with the set, which featured a monumental throne. It sat centrally, in perpetuity as a motif and portent of absolute power. Empty frames hung above like nooses. Richard II’s rule over England is not going to be a placid one.
More symbols abound. Stephens juxtaposes medieval dress against modern wardrobe in a demonstration of the politics and separation between King Richard and Henry Bolingbroke. Richard’s traditional sense of the divine right of kings clashes on a fashion level with the more modern politics of Bolingbroke loyalists.
The special effects accentuated pivotal choices and actions in the play. This included the use of monochromatic lighting, slow motion scenes, and limited sound effects and music.
The acting was, simply, excellent. The casting choices throughout the play felt natural and right.
Seth Trucks plays an initially egoistic King Richard who’s ken ultimately grows as his wretched existence garners pity. By the time he dies, he is transformed. Trucks made this transformation feel true not only through his speech but manner as well. If we missed the stages of metamorphosis in between, he would have been unrecognizable, a difficult succession to relay from the stage.
Courtney Poston passionately portrays Henry Bolingbroke (eventually King Henry IV) immersing the audience in Bolingbroke’s perspective within the clash between King Richard and himself.
Maddie Fernandez, who also plays Hotspur and a Servant, embodies Mowbray with a powerful stage presence and her delivery of the lines. She delivers one significant line in particular so powerfully to proud Richard: “My life thou shalt command, but not my shame.”
Darryl Willis masterfully portrays John of Gaunt’s deteriorating health.
The high quality of this production allowed for the complete focus to fall onto the story itself. Shakespeare leaves us questioning everything, from absolute power to whether or not we live long enough to see any fruits of our late- acquired wisdom.
Chelsea Alice is a human being.