Post5 Theatre's Richard III bursts with all the bloodlust and political gamesmanship you'd expect. Yet Post5 justifies reviving Shakespeare's centuries-old text by making it feel as surreal and terrifying as a horror film.
This rendition begins with Richard (Matt Smith) awakening from a fretful sleep. Smith proves to be an inspired casting choice. Quiet and short, he may look unimposing, but he moves so effortlessly across the stage that his hunched back makes him seem less a cripple than a contorted, speedy insect buzzing toward England's throne.
It's a blast watching Richard hoodwink the sentimental fools standing between him and the crown, though the play never forgets that Richard is a monster (specifically, a child murderer). The play is filled with nightmarish visions, like when the stage floods with crimson light, creating the illusion that Richard has drenched the theater in blood.
The added unsettling dream sequences are so effective that the omission of Richard's nemesis Richmond is barely noticeable. Physical antagonists aren't as interesting as Richard's inner demons, which are symbolized by distorted voices echoing across the stage.
With all the violence, it would have been a cinch to render the play a grim slog. Luckily, the cast dodges that trap by maximizing the story's sly wit. Even when Richard torments Elizabeth (Elizabeth Parker) after slaughtering her two sons, Smith's delivery is so casual that Richard's obliviousness to Elizabeth's anguish becomes both horrifying and hilariously absurd.
There's much to admire, from the ingenious set design (fittingly, the stage's checkered floor looks like a chessboard) to the last scenes featuring Richard's sister Clarence (Isabella Buckner, playing a character who's usually male), which have been entertainingly reimagined to include a tearful monologue delivered to a barber.
For Shakespeare diehards, Richard III may have become too familiar. Yet Post5's take on Richard and his colorful circle of enemies is so inventive that even viewers who have heard Richard rage about "the spleen of fiery dragons" countless times may feel as if they're being overpowered by the play for the first time. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON.
SEE IT: Richard III plays at Post5 Theatre, 1666 SE Lambert St., post5theatre.org. 7:30 pm Friday-Sunday, through Oct. 22. Additional show 7:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 20. $20 Friday-Saturday, pay what you will Thursday and Sunday.