Jessica Kubzansky's adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Richard II" doesn't stand on pageantry. There are no fine costumes or numerous actors running around in her "R II" now playing at Pasadena's Boston Court. With only three actors, this production looks at the emotional state of a deposed king, focusing on his raw anguish at his current reduced state.
The play begins with Richard II (John Sloan) sitting on a circular metal grate that is lit from below with a sinister cold glow. He is dressed in black as are the other two actors, Actor B (Paige Lindsey White) and Actor C (Jim Ortlieb). Richard II is already in the dungeon and he's remembering his glorious days in the sun as the king.
The program gives you a quick review of the royal line. King Edward II had five sons. His eldest, also Edward, was the father of Richard II. Kubzansky's script makes it perfectly clear who Actor B and Actor C are playing. It might seem awkward reading, but for those of us who need a refresher on the tangled history of the royals, these reminders come as something of a relief.
Scenic and projection designer Kaitlyn Pietras has modest risers on either side of the stage and one downstage that has a wooden throne. Selected phrases are projected onto a downstage screen in formations that suggest things like a castle or a sky. Sometimes the words just fill the screen until one particular phrase is highlighted.
The only glittering prop is Richard II's scepter and his crown. The crown glows gold and red gems glitter in the spotlight. Everyone is nothing, commonplace without the crown.
When Sloan wears the crown as Richard, I can't help but think of the willful child Max from Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's picture book "Where the Wild Things Are." He's a young pretender playing king amongst men who are better suited for the role. As he loses power, this Richard matures into a reflective man, too late understanding his mistakes. This is a very different production than the PBS Great Performances "Richard II" which is part of its "The Hollow Crown" series of four Shakespeare historical plays. Both are worth seeing.