King Richard surrenders in Baltimore

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Special to the Dorchester Banner/Teresa Castracane. The actor Jonas David Grey is England’s young and arrogant king in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Richard II.

BALTIMORE — It took slightly less than two hours to travel across the Bay Bridge and arrive six centuries earlier; just in time to witness King Richard II surrender his crown to his usurping cousin, the Duke of Lancaster. The current production at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore is the drama of the boy who became the English king at age ten, who ruled on a self-destructive path of exploiting friends, poor advice, and worse government. In Shakespeare’s words, “His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last.” And it doesn’t.

While the entire play is written in rhyming poetry, the scene of King Richard’s deposition (or de-coronation) contains the most lyrical and poignant lines Shakespeare ever wrote. Director Kevin J. Costa says, “Any language lover finds him or herself awash in some of the most remarkable verse Shakespeare ever produced.”

Company member Jonas David Grey performs the role with the skill required to present Richard as an arrogant, foolish king whom we don’t like. Then, with the loss of his crown, we hear the introspective soliloquies of a man who has lost everything but has gained wisdom, and he breaks our hearts.

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Special to the Dorchester Banner/Teresa Castracane. Banished from England by his cousin King Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke (actor Patrick Kilpatrick) says farewell to his father, John of Gaunt, a wealthy noble (actor Frank B. Moorman).

Richard II is a seldom-produced play, and it took courage for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company to select it as the first tragedy in their inaugural season. This play was last performed in Baltimore over a hundred years ago. The lead was played by Junius Booth, father of the great actor Edwin Booth, but also father of the Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The beautiful theater is itself steeped in history. A former 19th century Mercantile Bank building, it has been gorgeously transformed into a 260 seat theater space. It retains the incredible ceiling, the columns, the vault, and security catwalks of a building that survived the great fire of Baltimore in 1904. The theater itself, like the play, is something to see. Inspired by Shakespeare Globe Theater, the purchase, design, and renovation were the result of an energetic and still ongoing fund- raising to maintain this cultural gem in downtown Baltimore, two blocks from the Inner Harbor.

This weekend is the last opportunity to see Richard II, but in a delightful change of pace, the holiday presentation will be Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” A similar story with a happier ending, a mean guy sees the light and transforms himself into a wiser human being. The Dickens work runs from November 29 through December 23.

Managing Director Lesley Malin sums it up: “We couldn’t be more thrilled that after all the hard work of renovation and fundraising to make this new theater a reality, the final result is such a beautiful and striking performance space and that our audiences are excited and comfortable.”

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has made a commitment to education and will be playing “Romeo and Juliet” for school groups in the spring. For more information and/or tickets, call 410-244-8570.

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