The problem is the cultural metaphor
“As conceived and directed by Jillian Keiley — with interpolations from “Troilus and Cressida,” “Coriolanus,” “Much Ado” and the sonnets — the tragedy of the 14th-century English king has been phantasmagorically transported to Studio 54-era New York as a celebration of what a program note calls queer Black “divinity.” So Hotspur is a coked-up club kid and, yes, there’s oral sex in a hot tub. AIDS gets what seems to me to be a gratuitous cameo.
The problem certainly isn’t the queer part of the mission statement. Many productions have explored the suggestion in the text that Richard (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) and his cousin Aumerle (Emilio Vieira) were lovers, and that their connection helped lead to the king’s downfall in a court that would have seen that relationship as a sign of his unfitness. And surely in the age of “Bridgerton” we’re excited rather than scandalized by the casting of Black actors in roles previously played only by white ones.
The problem is the cultural metaphor that Keiley and Brad Fraser, who did the adaptation, have chosen to superimpose on a history play. The first of a tetralogy telling the “sad stories of the death of kings,” “Richard II” is fundamentally about personal flaws that become political disasters. Celebrating those flaws as fabulousness confuses the issue whichever way you look at it. Was Richard a martyr to a movement in the future? Does the ecstasy of gayness make for bad governance?
It did not help, on the Patterson’s extraordinarily long and narrow thrust, with audiences banked closely on three sides, that the actors were staged so densely and busily you often could not grasp what was going on.”
[Note: this review is part of a collection in the CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK]Read Full Review08/29/2023