Defeats of Strength

A pair of tragic heroes, who dare all and get smashed by destiny

Persian diversion: The cast of the National Theater of Greece
photo: Courtesy of the National Theater of Greece
Persian diversion: The cast of the National Theater of Greece


Richard II
by William Shakespeare
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street

The Persians
by Aeschylus
City Center
131 West 55th Street

What this all has to do with either the misrule of England or the evolution of Richard's character, nobody's saying, though Michael Cumpsty's urbane, lucid, and often touching rendition of the title role makes more sense than anything else onstage. Cumpsty used to use his big, lanky frame and resonant voice to bellow such roles; latterly, he's learned wonderfully how to personalize the verse. The production's irritating blankness is much alleviated, especially in the second half, by his skill at catching the role's emotional music, its momentary seizures of despair or grief, warded off with weepy flecks of irony. George Morfogen, a piously quailing Duke of York, and Ellen Parker, raucously feisty as his Duchess, enhance the production. So, after a maddeningly mannered turn as the courtier Bushy, does David Greenspan, knotty and tight-mouthed, as the obstinate, conniving Bishop of Carlisle. But if you ask me what made Richard a bad king, or why Bolingbroke should have made him give up the throne, all I can tell you is that neither Shakespeare nor CSC seems to have thought much about the matter.

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