Review: Richard III is the king you’ll hate to love in Bag&Baggage’s current production

Poor Richard III. If only Scott Palmer was alive in the 1400s we might remember him differently.

For generations Richard III was among the least liked of the British kings. By reputation, he was considered vile, conniving, murderous and an all-round ill-tempered lout prone to having his critics severely punished.

He slashed his way to the royal crown and has even been accused of having two young potential kings “disappear” beneath the stonework of London Tower.

His defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 paved the way for a welcome change in British royalty.

He wasn’t sadly mourned, so it is no wonder no one kept the notes on where he was buried and all of England forgot the location of his royal grave.

Then, two years ago, historical researchers found his bones and dug him up from under the oil-stained pavement of a government parking lot in Leicester. There is an ongoing effort by the Richard III Society to buff the tarnish off the late King’s image. They say he got a bad rap and that he wasn’t as bad as his reputation.

Much like the archeologists, Bag&Baggage’s Palmer also exhumed Richard III,but this time in the form of a comedy he wrote and directed 12 years ago in Glasgow, Scotland.

B&B Richard III - Cassie Greer as Lady Anne 2Don’t confuse Palmer’s “Richard III, the Comedy” with the dark, moody and interminable “Richard III” by William Shakespeare. The name may be the same, but Palmer’s version is much kinder to the central character and endows him with the personality and charm befitting royalty. And more than a few laugh lines.

Actually, the current Bag&Baggage production, playing outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in Hillsboro, is far more akin to The Three Stooges trying the explain Monte Python by doing a Marx Brothers routine.

The key to enjoying the production is to not try to make more out of it than it is. It’s not traditional Shakespeare. It’s just fun. Or at least until intermission. Then the story grows dark as the newly crowned Richard turns on the ones he loved and they turn on him, and in the end, the king gets exactly what he deserves. Or so history would have us believe.

Strengths: There are many. In comedy, timing and body language are easily as important as the dialogue. And the cast has them down cold.

Peter Schuyler brings a sense of warmth to Richard, going from the man you love to hate to the king you hate to love. B&B regular Cassie Greer is delightful as the easily swayed and recently widowed Lady Anne who delivers her lines with a New York accent, then switches to the aging Duchess of York and performs the best-ever, scene-stealing stage exit. And then there is Mariel Sierra, who swings easily from the murderous Mafia-like James Tyrell to delivering some of the most powerful lines of the night as the grief ravaged Queen Elizabeth.

Weaknesses:  It’s outdoor theater. That means that sometime during the play the performers will be competing with the rumble of a Harley-Davidson or a dog barking. Don’t consider it an irritation. It’s ambiance.

Nice Touch: There is a lot of playful interaction between the cast and the audience as the performers lighten the darker meaning of the tragic story.

Take away: For fans of Shakespeare, it can be difficult to wrap your head around laugh lines and slapstick delivered in a classic tragedy. In his defense, Palmer has preserved the Shakespearean story of Richard III, but presents it in a manner that even haters of The Bard may find enjoyable.

The Bag&Baggage production of “Richard III” plays at Hillsboro’s Civic Center Plaza, 150 E. Main St., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through Aug. 1. General admission tickets are $20. Note: This is outdoor theater and no seating is provided, so bring your own folding chair, cushion etc.