Richard the Third: The Story Becomes the History | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Richard the Third: The Story Becomes the History


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RICHARD THE THIRD: THE STORY BECOMES THE HISTORY, Open Eye Productions, at the Greenview Arts Center. Like would-be king Richard Nixon, real-life king Richard III has been the subject of revisionist history from the moment he took power. Contemporary opinion varied greatly--one bishop said, "He contents the people where he goes best that ever a prince did," whereas a priest remarked that "like a scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail." But it was Shakespeare's Richard III, drawn largely from Sir Thomas More's History of Richard III, that established his image as a misshapen, amoral, power-hungry tyrant. In the ensuing years a number of historians and academics have sought to unblacken this black king's name. In 1987 the creators of Jonny Quest even got into the act, sending their cartoon hero back to medieval England to exonerate Richard in the comic book "Winters of Discontent."

Now Open Eye Productions offers its take on the 500-year-old debate, adapting Shakespeare's play to suggest that all of Richard's supposed villainy in fact belonged to his successor, Henry VII, who projected his own worst qualities onto Richard for propaganda purposes. It's a tenable if well-worn theory, but this amateurish production turns revisionism opaque. With its conflicting acting styles, haphazard blocking, and indecipherable political affiliations among the characters, this staging is nearly impossible to follow. And in the end, turning Henry into a villain as cartoonish as Shakespeare's Richard brings us no closer to the truth.

--Justin Hayford

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