Forget getting to a nunnery. Hie thee to the Boston University Theatre, where the BU School of Theatre and the Huntington Theatre Company are presenting England's Propeller theater company in Richard III and The Comedy of Errors in rep (through June 19). The all-male troupe helmed by Edward Hall, son of Brit theater royalty Sir Peter Hall, is faster than a speeding bullet (several of which figure in the offing of Dick Crookback) and funnier than the Three Stooges (whose ancestors lurk in Ephesus), and it fields diction crisper than bacon. It sets its anything-goes Comedy of Errors south of the border amid suspicious onlookers and a mariachi band in sombreros, and it engulfs Richard III in the grim accouterments of a Victorian hospital where Sweeney Todd and Freddy Krueger would appear to practice medicine. Moreover, the sensibility is as unmistakably male as the company, with nyuk-nyuks, fart jokes, and bloodbaths aplenty. Yet the Shakespearean performance of this 14-year-old troupe with the energy of a 14-year-old is as rigorous as it is freewheeling. Its members speak the Bard's language at a breakneck speed but with a clarity the combination of which is like patting one's head and rubbing one's belly at the same time. Viewing the two shows in a single day felt like dying and going to some rowdy, contemporary Shakespeare heaven where the more staid and plummy practitioners have been relegated to another cloud.
OPENING A VEIN With its almost jaunty Grand Guignol approach, Propeller aims to capture both the horror and the black comedy of Richard III.
With its almost jaunty Grand Guignol approach, Propeller aims to capture both the horror and the black comedy of Richard III, in which Shakespeare capped his coverage of the Wars of the Roses while at the same time justifying a Tudor takeover by reinventing Richard as a seductive monster. To this end, the play is given its ghoulish utilitarian setting, a movable arrangement of shower curtains and bed screens from which a chorus of masked surgeons surveys the entering audience with unsettling scrutiny. In addition to functioning as a sort of choir, with a repertoire that runs from Latin church music to "Down Amongst the Dead Men," these physicians wield saws, drills, and cleavers that look none too sanitary. Into their somber midst catapults Richard Clothier's debonair, self-delighted, if increasingly deranged Richard in Victorian formal wear, his limp a crablike lope, his withered arm missing a hand but not a retractable dagger.
I admit to having been put off by a few of the grosser highlights of Propeller's Shakespeare Chainsaw Massacre, like the copious puking of ill King Edward IV and the pulling of slippery guts from Buckingham after he's disemboweled with a scythe. But the portrayal of the child princes from whom Richard snatches the crown as porcelain-faced puppets expertly manipulated and voiced by grown-up actors is beautifully accomplished. Seeing these exquisite tykes in their period nightclothes toddled off to bed in the Tower, only to awake to their uncle's infinitely creepy assassin, is poignant indeed.
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