Surely the presence of Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis’ presence at the opening of a show under his eaves is an ordinary occurrence, but Eustis’ remarks at the premiere of "Richard III" left a little on the studio floor. Eustis referenced the now closed production of "As You Like It" earlier this summer, praising the Delacorte Theater while chiding it for being somewhat inaccessible.
Hence the creation of the "Mobile Shakespeare Unit," a touring company crossing the five boroughs to give Shakespeare to the school kids, the prisoners, the old folks and the far-flung communities; also, those unable to wait overnight in line for a seat, or unwilling to pay for a reserved ticket whose price has gone up 150 percent in less than a decade. What recession, right?
Eustis’ point in bringing this up was to claim that the mobile unit was just as worthy of treading the boards at the Public, and indeed, even with allowances for the portable nature of their show, they are. After touring New York using broom handles for weapons and a floor side chart of the Yorks to demonstrate who’s just been untimely knocked off by the titular Richard (Ron Cephas Jones) it must feel a little light of prop, but no less deep of feeling thanks to Amanda Dehnert’s excellent direction.
With his habit of lurking at one corner of the in-the-round stage, Jones projects the potential of being everywhere at once, eavesdropping on all as he schemes for the throne over clueless Edward (Kevin Kelly) and slightly more suspicious Clarence (Miriam A. Hyman).
In this he is matched only by the stubborn hauteur of Suzanne Bertish’s Queen Margaret, banished for a while but who would also know the nation’s secrets as she calls attention to Richard’s misdeeds.
Still, his lurking yields so that other members of the cast, like the luminous Michelle Beck as the lovely-done-wrong Lady Anne and Michael Crane as the discarded Buckingham, to achieve central focus. This Richard may be many things, but he’s not a spotlight hog (there is no spotlight anyway).
(It must be noted for purists in the audience that this "Richard" has been cut down to a smooth, sub-two-hour timeframe, and its final act feels a little chopped off. All the critical parts are in order, though.)
"Richard III" runs through August 25 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. For info and tickets, visit Publictheater.org.