By Kevin Zimmerman
The Queens Player’s production of “Richard III” begins even before the audience gets to their seats.
In the lobby, Samantha Maurice and Benjamin Russell, dressed as 1980s London bobbies, bark orders and demand to see IDs of anyone holding a ticket. Then, once you make it past Alexander Stine, playing the role of the punk club bouncer, someone hands you a pair of earplugs.
At this point you might be rethinking the whole thing. Fear not, this “Richard III” isn’t your father’s Shakespeare but it is a rollicking good, albeit loud, night in the theater.
Director Albert Bonilla and Executive Producer Richard Mazda, who pulls double duty as Richard, have transported this historical drama from the dying days of the War of the Roses to the reign of The Sex Pistols and The Ramones.
The inclusion of punk music, performed by cast members on a stage within the stage, adds another layer to the complexity of this story of Richard’s meteoric rise — abetted by plenty of treachery — followed by his spectacular fall.
From the opening number of The Clash’s “London Calling,” through Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” on to The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” the song selection moves the story along in a fresh way. Some of the actors even turn parts of their monologues into ad hoc songs.
Changing the setting from the verdant fields of 15th-cetury England to the gritty streets of Margaret Thatcher’s London provides ample opportunity for characters to indulge in plenty of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
All the characters who surround Richard snort coke, drink booze non-stop and smoke a lot of weed while the humpbacked, shriveled arm want-to-be monarch plots his way to the throne.
Mazda provides Richard with the right mix of self-loathing and blind ambition needed for this borderline psychopath — Richard plots to have his two brothers and his two nephews murdered to clear his path to the crown.
As Richard, Mazda is loud, guttural and conniving when he needs to be. But toward the end, after he is visited in his sleep by the ghosts of all the people he slew, Richard begins to question his own motives.
“I shall despair. There is no creature loves me; And if I die, no soul shall pity me; Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself find in myself no pity to myself?” Richard laments after waking.
Despite playing a fairly nasty guy up to this point, Mazda enables the audience to feel a little bit sorry for a guy, who figured because of his hideous appearance could never find love, and in his quest for power may finally be losing it.
Other standouts in the cast include Clarence’s boobish murders, played by the lobby bobbies Maurice and Russell.
In what is a dose of much-needed levity, the two would-be murderers play out a scene straight from a Keystone Kops film. With blackened teeth and cockney accents, this duo makes the most of the clever and pun-filled banter they share with their victim.
As King Edward, Al Foote III, brings a sense of real pathos to his brief scenes following Clarence’s death. Foote really looks like someone who just heard the most devastating news and isn’t sure if he can go on.
But Sandra Karas as the Duchess of York delivers what may be the show’s finest performance.
As mother and grandmother to all of Richard’s victims, and to the murderous man himself, Karas plays the part as a booze hound, a victim to the evil happenings to the people she loves. But as Richard’s acts turn even more violent, Karas brings a quiet strength to the part necessary to tell her son what she really thinks of him and his ambitions.
“Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end,” she tells Richard. “Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend.”
Then as Richard runs about the stage shouting, “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” and the band breaks into the frantic, dizzying sounds of “Ballroom Blitz,” the rest of the cast reappears and proceeds to pummel the king to death.
Even there, Karas shines.
Karas, standing over Richard kicking him in time to the music and spitting on his limp body before she walks away, is an image that will stick with you long after the curtain falls.
Contact News Editor Kevin Zimmerman at (718) 260-4541 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you Go
When: Through March 15
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City
Contact: (718) 392-0722