RICHARD II, POET KING, Gilead Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Arrogant and sybaritic, Richard II nevertheless moved England from disorder to prosperity in 22 years, then lost the throne through power plays and hubris. Six hundred years after his death, Chicago theater has been giving the monarch his dramatic due: his death haunts Henry IV, recently presented by Shakespeare Repertory, while he himself appears, complete with queen and lover, in Famous Door Theatre's Two Planks and a Passion. Now Gilead's poetic, visually stunning production offers a sympathetic take on the hapless Plantagenet. Created by the ensemble and powerfully staged by Arkansas director Brad Mooy, this 90-minute adaptation creates a complex king out of Elizabethan sources, including Shakespeare and Raphael Holinshed's history of England. Concentrating on the last two years of a tempestuous reign, Gilead's staging enacts the dynastic war between "killing cousins" Richard and Bolingbroke, which ends with Richard's murder.
Like Thirteenth Tribe's recent Blood Line, this is exciting communal art--classic Chicago theater. The disciplined, athletic 13-member cast includes two Richards (Kevin Stark and Michael Gotch, in remarkably well coordinated recitations) to suggest the divided king, as well as five Isabels and five Bolingbrokes to convey the diverse reactions of his queen and usurper. Stephanie Nelson's bleached set of white sand, billowing curtains, and dripping ice sculptures is complemented by Ann Boyd's blanched costumes and energized by Michael La Tour's dynamic sound design and Andrew Meyers's gorgeous lighting. --Lawrence Bommer