The perfect ending to a week filled with villainy came in the form of man-of-the-theatre Steven Berkoff’s multi-role, one-man monologue whose subject matter deals exclusively with some of the Bard’s most fascinating, largely-evil creations. And, while quite a few of these characters are based more or less on historical figures, how many Lady Macbeths still roam the planet today? Universality indeed.
After reviewing well-over four hours of Marcel Ophüls’ searing portrait of the “Butcher of Lyon” (Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie—first released in 1988, the DVD version is now available) and then an early look at Restrepo (a no-holds-barred documentary where the filmmakers shadowed American troops in the deadliest valley of Afghanistan over the course of a 14-month deployment—cross reference below), it was a great pleasure to slip back into the realm of imaginary brutes.
What a fine testament to Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects that it should have the honour of the Canadian première of Shakespeare’s Villains. What a marvellous treat for Niagara theatregoers to be able to savour this wonderfully-astute script (except, perhaps the vilification of critics—surely that was unnecessary!) in their own backyard. What good fortune for all concerned that actor-extraordinaire Ric Reid calls St. Catharines home—without someone of his calibre taking on the enormously-challenging assignment, the play’s insights, declamations and droll humour would never have found its way to the Sullivan Mahoney Court House Theatre.
Well known to these pages, Reid’s dramatic skills are solidly based on an innate understanding of comedy. Berkoff’s nearly 90-minute runtime has many bits of levity between the more famous scenes of murder and mayhem. Sending up Richard III as the despot orders a post-performance meal was the ideal tonic to the infamous “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech; deftly pillorying former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s “indescretions” (in tenor and tone—“This is my willy!”) as the Senate sensed political blood perfectly set the stage for Reid’s most riveting speech of the performance: “You common cry of curs!” was chillingly intense. As with the playwright (both in the text and after his own performances), Reid hit so many emotional highs and buttons, that his own cool-down time must be considerable.
With so many words, personas and scenes to produce without a break, a few blemishes were to be expected. When they did come, and very much to his credit, the ever-engaging actor invited the capacity crowd to share his dilemma, then move on collectively. These few moments were handled with an honesty that few of his characters could ever muster. Having a mug of water at-the-ready just makes good sense; placing it on some sort of pedestal might help smooth over the somewhat awkward kneel-and-gulp trips to the elixir of lines.
Director Kelly Daniels’ understanding and invention kept the production flowing easily forward. What fun she and her off-stage husband must have had working out the blocking and keeping a lid on the gags. One of the unforgettable successes was the whole business around double takes (hilariously moving towards the show stopping “quad take,” which was landed as surely as Patrick Chan’s most recent outing).
RJ Conn’s tri-arch, red-fabric set had just the right feel for Shakespearean minimalism, allowing the words and the actor to dominate the proceedings. At every turn in and around the pillars, the next character seamlessly emerged. No doubt the lighting cues will be more at one with those transitions as the run continues.
The closing segment (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) was notable once more for exceptional balance (Reid’s mighty scream of “Puck” is probably still echoing). Perhaps the only visual misstep came when a real cloak was employed where an invisible one was wanted—disappearing into the night with the happy disbelief of all might well provide a final curtain of a different kind. JWR