Richard III‘s popularity, and its difficulty, come from its humor; Bernard Shaw used to say it was Punch and Judy raised to a philosophic plane. Indeed, Punch, like Richard, connives and kills his way to the top, and is only brought down by the accumulated weight of so many corpses. Peter Dinklage, the Public’s Richard, is an actor of force and fervor rather than slyness. Small in height but tall in acting stature, he conquers much of the part by sheer strength of personality. His best moment, the soliloquy after the battlefield nightmare, is genuinely memorable in its scrambling vulnerability. Yet even here the sardonic joking that makes audiences love tyrannical Richard has faded out.
Its absence may not be Dinklage’s fault. Peter Dubois’s production, big in scope and full of inventive gestures, doesn’t offer a consistent vision of the play, though it lays out the events lucidly enough. It has a look of devices being tried (what is that opening hide-and-seek pantomime to Smetana’s “Moldau” about?) rather than a story being shaped. The actors who know what they’re doing—Roberta Maxwell’s Duchess of York would be a prime example—come off well; others scream and struggle, fighting the verse, the rhetorical figures, and even the sense, when they should be fighting Richard’s tyranny or their own characters’ conflicted feelings. It’s frustrating because the materials for a fine production of Richard were in Dubois’s hands; only the desire to convey the drama Shakespeare wrote, through the words he used, seems to have gotten mislaid among a variety of less relevant directorial goals.