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Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)   
Richard III

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Belinda Bremner
at Austin Gardens, Oak Park (map)
thru Aug 25  |  tickets: $15-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



Evil and charisma collide in Shakespeare’s blood-thirsty tyrant


Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)


Oak Park Festival Theatre presents


Richard III

Review by Catey Sullivan 

With all due respect to Iago, Richard Gloucester is the greatest villain Shakespeare ever penned. The “lump of foul deformity” at the raging, bitter heart of Richard III is fascinatingly complex, a monster who knows he’s a monster and embraces his own murderous ruthlessness like a child hugging a new puppy on Christmas morning. He is also undeniably, irresistibly charming. Few and far between are the men who could slaughter your father and husband one day and convince you to marry him the next. It’s that duality – evil and charisma – that make the part the very devil to pull off. Lean too far in one direction and you’ve got a two-dimensional cartoon baddie . Too far in the other and you leach the play and its anti-hero of their horror.

Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)
With Oak Park Festival Theatre’s staging of the blood-soaked classic, director Belinda Bremner has the capable Kevin Theis in the title role. It’s clear from the start that the actor has a fine command of Richard’s two-faced personality. After successfully wooing the widowed Lady Anne over the corpse of her dead father, Richard gleefully ponders his powers of manipulation. “Was ever woman in this humor wooed?” he asks incredulously, and then, even more so: “Was ever woman in this humor won?” Theis sinks his fangs into the line as if he were relishing the first bite of a bloody steak. Which, in a metaphorical way, he most certainly is. Blood will have blood in Richard III, and sin will pluck on sin until the entire stage is awash in it. Theis is equally deft hurling insults; there’s an unmistakable glee in his voice as he denounces the deposed Queen Margaret as “hateful, withered hag,” and it’s nigh on impossible not to take some delight in the withering put-down.

Where Theis falters a bit is on the side of Richard’s almost unimaginable depravity. Once Richard, Duke of Gloucester, gains the crown and the title of King Richard III, the murderous monarch all but slips into a state of paranoia, which in turn fuels a homicidal ruthlessness that’s utterly barbaric. Theis never seems quite as fearful as one would expect from such a sick, slick customer, a lack that’s emphasized once Richard decides it’s time to start murdering children. What’s wanted there is a soulless Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer embodiment of pure evil. What’s delivered is still tinged with Richard’s rakish, hump-backed charm.

Richard III also falters slightly is in its female ensemble. The women here – Lady Anne, Queen Elizabeth, former Queen Margaret and Richard’s mother the Duchess of York – serve as the play’s conscience, their lamentations and curses providing a heart-breaking moral context to Richard’s willingness to slaughter his way to the top. As Lady

Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)
Anne, Jhenai Mootz is the strongest, delivering Shakespeare’s words with sorrow-drenched clarity . Not as successful is Carin Silkaitis, who seems miscast as the Cassandra-like Margaret, a foreseer of doom whose every word drips with poisonous portent. While she gives a vigorous reading to Margaret’s prophecies, Silkaitis’ wholesome presence lacks the otherworldly prescience the part demands. On the whole, the women don’t really coalesce – the current of grief that should counterbalance Richard’s bloody glee is felt only in fits and starts rather than as a powerful driving force.

Part of the problem with the women – and with the entire ensemble – is the less-than-ideal acoustics of Austin Gardens. Competing with planes, cicadas and the occasional siren, the cast is forced to deliver most of the text at top volume. There are two big problems with that – first, amplification doesn’t always translate into clarity; it just makes the muddle noisier. Second, with everyone in loud mode, there’s not a lot of room for nuance in tone. Conspiratorial whispers lose their hushed sense of secrecy; clandestine plots come across as far too public.

Set designer Aimee Hanyzewski has crafted an evocative space for Richard to bustle in, backing the action with massive spider web that doubles in size as the deformed royal grows ever more powerful. She also makes effective use of a few simple tapestries, framing the stage with banners bearing the White Rose of York, and later – after Richard is crowned – with a bellicose wild boar. Those touches are marvelous, and bring home Richard’s nature as both a wily, subtle spider and a marauding, blood-thirsty tyrant.


Rating: ★★½



Richard III continues through August 25th at Austin Gardens, Oak Park (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 7pm.  Tickets are $15-$25, and are available by phone (708-445-4440) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Review: Richard III (Oak Park Festival Theatre)

Photos courtesy of Oak Park Festival Theatre 




Kevin Theis (Richard, Duke of Gloucester); Jhenai Mootz (Lady Anne); Carin Silkaitis (Margaret); Bryan A. Renaud (Berkeley, Priest); Peter Ash (Dorset); Andrew Behling (2nd Murderer, Bishop of Ely); Joe Bianco (Rivers); Will Crouse (Catesby); Tony Dobrowolski (Stanley); Barbara Figgins (Duchess of York);  Hywel Griffith (Messenger); Brooke Hebert (Young Elizabeth); Ted Hoerl (Clarence); Drew Johnson (Grey, Richmond); Carl Lindberg (Ratcliffe); Evan Michalic (Messenger); Sara M. Nichols (Elizabeth); Colleen O’Connor (Musician, Monk); Shanon Parr (Edward); Savanna Rae (Jane Shore); Mark Richard (Hastings); Chris Rickett (Brackenbury); Dave Skvarla (Buckingham); Curtis Stelter (Messenger); Gwen Theis (York); Miranda Theis (Prince);  Colin Wasmund (1st Murderer); Sean McGill, Jonathon Nichols, Bethany Schtick (ensemble)

behind the scenes

Belinda Bremner (director); Aimee Hanyzewski (set design); Mac Vaughey (lighting); Geoff Coates, Charlie Cascino (fight choreography); Joseph Fosco (sound design, original music); Emily McConnell (costumes)


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