Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Richard III

By William Shakespeare

Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Directed by Barbara Gaines

Produced by Chicago Shakespeare Theater

“Now is the winter of our discontent”.

“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”.

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe”.

“So wise so young, they say, do never live long.”

—quotes from Richard III

Enduring early Shakespeare history lives well with Wallace Acton as Richard III

Richard III is a most compelling character who seduces the audience making us complicit in his nasty deeds. Wallace Acton plays the bad-armed, humped-back and short-footed Duke/King (Richard III) as a charming—even charismatic persona with whom from the opening soliloquy we become lured into a partnership of evil. Richard III, the play, unfolds as a most articulate and compelling work. I enjoyed the expert cast as they wove the power struggle between the York and Lancaster families for the English throne.

RICHARDIII at chicago shakespeare theater

We are enticed by Acton’s sly performance as Richard even when he outlines his evil plan in a monologue that gets us to almost like this charming but purely evil villain. His asides to the audiences with their wink and sour faces keep us intoxicated with Richard’s manipulations leading to killings that lead to his ascending to the English crown. Richard III is more than a flat symbol of evil such as the Vice character from Medieval literature. Rather we see Richard as a cunningly charming and most adapt and at language as a weapon. He uses his deformed body to win sympathy then cashes it in as he kills his way to power. Treachery, trickery and betrayal with raw brute force are his tools. He states that being “unloved” is the source of his immorality. Richard demonstrates how evil is used as a means to justify the lust for power.  Wallace Acton is most effective and truthful Richard I’ve seen to date.


With the help of the Duke of Buckingham (the articulate Kevin Gudahl)), Richard seduces, lures and murders everyone in his way toward ultimate power. Everyone became pawns in Richard’s game. Filled with The Bard’s poetic language, where supernatural gloom and doom are played out in curses, dreams involving witchcraft and devil symbols, Richard III demonstrates Shakespeare’s intelligent use of monologues and asides. Filled with stirring dialogue that draws in audiences into the adventures of Richard’s quest for the English crown, we see how Rickard’s physical deformity makes him an outcast thus justifying his treachery.

Director Barbara Gaines has cast exceptionally well in this production. The women—Queen Margaret (Jennifer Harmon), Lady Anne (Angela Ingersoll),  Duchess of York (Mary Ann Thebus) and Queen Elizabeth (Wendy Robie)—each presented memorable performances. I’ve not see a finer collection of women in a Shakespeare play!

The supporting cast to Wallace Acton’s Richard is lead by the compelling Kevin Gudahl (Lord Buckingham)  with help from Matt DeCaro (Edward IV & Ratcliff); John Lister (Lord Hastings) and John Reeger  (Lord Stanley & Archbishop of York). Brendan Marshall-Rashid, as Earl of Richmond, was also quite good.

The cast was respectful of the material, spot-on performers with a most eloquent delivery of Shakespeare’s fluid language. The stage combat (by Robin H. McFarquhar) was thrilling.  Neil Patel’s black set and Robert Wierzel’s lighting aptly set the dark mood of the show. As usual, Chicago Shakespeare Theater delivers a smart, well-paced and proficient production of The Bard’s first stage success. This is a world-class production.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL, call 312-595-5600,, tickets $55 -$68 -$75, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission.

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