For three hours, the Belasco Theatre transcends time and space to transport a wide-eyed audience to the Globe Theatre during the Elizabethan Era. Men dressed in wigs and paled by powder scurry around the stage, portraying Shakespeare's works with skillful acting, intricate costumes, and comical wordplay.
Shakespeare's Globe productions have leapt over the pond for a limited engagement on Broadway, bringing British charm and wit with them. The all-male troupe presents “Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” in repertory—and though the former is a tragedy and the latter a comedy, they are both met with tremendous uproar whenever Mark Rylance, the star of both shows, is involved. The environment is as historically accurate as possible. With half-dimmed lights to convey a daytime aura, the staging places the performance in a 17th-century context. The thespians offer performances that would amuse both the Shakespearean scholar and theatrical neophyte.
First on the bill, “Richard III” is a strong rendition of Elizabethan drama. Rylance depicts Richard with great artifice, manipulating his lines to delineate his character as a beloved villain. There is no question that the devious king is mentally infirm—a psychopath of sorts—but thanks to his outstanding sense of humor and peevish persona, we can't abhor him. The production is infused with nuanced personalities as well as intrigue and continuous jests that yield laughter until the bitter end.
In contrast, “Twelfth Night” lightens the mood as the players control the script to take advantage of every funny quip. Rylance is phenomenal as a severe Olivia who devolves into a fickle, love-sick mess when she meets Cesario. As Rylance declares, “What parentage?” and slaps a hand on his brow in exasperation and whispers an “oh my god” under his breath, we can all recall an instance of complete mortification over an illogical comment, and we clamor with understanding.
Angus Wright delivers as the idiotic Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and as he strokes two dead hares or struts and clucks like a chicken, he showcases his talent and vibrance. Stephen Fry also rounds out the cast as a believable Malvolio who literally thrusts into greatness, and whose haughty air as he is dragged across the floor serves as a perfect example of amusement intermingling with seriousness.
Both shows are masterful and enchanting, and they both receive standing ovations. Whether a confused Richard III is smooching with Queen Elizabeth or Viola and Orsino are sharing an intimate scene while being serenaded by a wise, singing jester, nothing is tedious when able actors give us a glance into the past that's still relevant to the present.
“Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” run in repertory at the Belasco Theatre (111 W. 44th St.) through Feb. 2. Tickets start from $25.
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