Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

               For God's sake let us sit upon the ground
               And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
               How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,
               Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed...

That speech doesn't appear until Act III of William Shakespeare's Richard II, but it opens the production by Hudson Classical Theater Company currently playing at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park.

Hudson is a mixed bag, but sometimes their stagings of Shakespeare, such as 2019's Antony and Cleopatra, are well worth seeing. The location, in an idyllic open-air setting, tends to work well, in spite of the uncomfortable stone-step seating and the constant plague of helicopters.

Nathan Mattingly is well cast as Richard, the spoiled pretty-boy who becomes his own worst enemy, but can't help but become sympathetic by the end. The role has attracted a variety of actors through the years, from Charles Kean to David Tennant. Richard is a better poet than he is a king, but that just means he has some of the best verse in the play.

Opposing Richard is Bolingbroke, played in this production by Dominic Williamson, who quickly gets everyone on his side through his willingness to take decisive action while Richard dithers. For those who know what happens in the next few plays of the tetralogy, however, this action will bode ominously, since once you start deposing kings, you open up a dangerous precedent.

When Richard finds himself abandoned and begins reciting the same lines that opened the production, they don't feel repeated. Instead, we find ourselves listening to the same words in a new way. Director Nicholas Martin-Smith should be commended for making this work, as well as for finding innovative ways of using the space.

If you're interested in seeing the show, it's playing at 6:30 pm Thursdays through Sundays until June 26th. Admission is free, but they do take donations, so please be generous. The company also provides cushions for the seating, but they can't control the weather, so try to go on a clear night!