An embittered wife. A “painted queen.” A virago who curses all who have crossed her. At first glance, the women of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third would not seem to be particularly good candidates for the Year of the Woman. But if you look deeper, there are remarkable women in David Muse’s production—women who made history. Let’s put the spotlight on them.
Cara Ricketts as Lady Anne of Neville
Richard’s courtship of Lady Anne of Neville is one of the most difficult scenes in all of Shakespeare. Superficially, it might seem that Lady Anne will lose by giving in to Richard. After all, according to the play, he has just killed her husband and her father-in-law.
But there is more to Anne’s story. She is a notable heiress, being the daughter of the late Earl of Warwick, known as the “Kingmaker.” By marrying Richard, she will protect her inheritance. Ricketts and Matthew Rauch’s Richard also suggest there is an attraction between the two.
Anne knows she is at risk as a woman alone in this dangerous, patriarchal society. As Ricketts notes in her Asides interview, “She’s not hopeful of Richard’s redemption but she is hopeful of herself. She hopes to be able to manipulate and work around Richard.” This may be naïve, but she is likely in shock.
Richard flatters her, praising her beauty and claiming that he has literally committed murder for her sake. He even offers her his sword to kill him. He is manipulating her, but she may have her own reasons for wanting to say yes.
So here we see not a woman who is weak, but a woman who is frightened and attempting to make the best of her limited options. Nor will she be the first to think she can change a man into a better person.
Cara Ricketts’ performance suggests that she hopes to reform Richard. She makes the scene believable with her detailed and subtle portrayal.
Robynn Rodriguez as Queen Elizabeth
Elizabeth Woodville is the beautiful widow Edward IV fell in love with, thwarting the Kingmaker Warwick’s plans to marry him to a foreign princess. Unfortunately, she had what her enemies considered an undistinguished background. She was also cursed with a multitude of grasping relatives who made themselves disliked. The most egregious example of their ambition was the betrothal of Elizabeth’s 20-year-old brother, John Woodville, to the dowager duchess of Norfolk, a wealthy woman in her sixties.
However, it is possible that some of this criticism was simply sexist. A man who advanced himself thus might be applauded for his aggressiveness and strategic choices. Certainly, Warwick the Kingmaker promoted his own family for years.
Once the King is dead, she knows she too faces danger. Although she suffers tremendous losses, she is one of the few on stage who outwits Richard. She assures her daughter’s future, and in doing so the future of the kingdom.
Robynn Rodriguez presents us with all aspects of this complicated woman–a woman who faces tremendous grief, but who can still protect her family by making better choices.
Lizan Mitchell as Margaret of Anjou
The night I saw Richard the Third, Lizan Mitchell received applause upon several of her exits. Such was the quality of her performance as the widow of Henry VI and mother of a murdered prince.
Margaret is the most powerful woman in the Henry VI tetralogy, playing politics and leading an army. Now, she has the permission of age: to speak her mind. She revels in the relentless honesty of a woman who has lost everything. And her prophecies all come true, every single one of them.
Unfazed by being called a hideous hag and a witch, Margaret is incandescent with the rage of an older generation. She has been drained of all her advantages. Her only joy is to seek revenge.
Her victory is to survive until she finds refuge in France. Given the bloodthirsty nature of her enemies, that is no small achievement.
Sandra Shipley as the Duchess of York
According to Shakespeare, Richard’s mother hated him from birth because of his deformity. This lack of love caused Richard to turn evil. But it is hard to know which came first, her hatred or his wicked nature.
Sworn enemy to Margaret of Anjou, the Duchess is mother to two kings. Here, her presence emphasizes the villainy of her son Richard. A man who is hated by his own mother must be truly monstrous.
Shipley brings us this unnatural mother in all her strength and fury.
The Victory of Female Energy
Director David Muse has cast two traditionally male roles with females: Sofiya Cheyenne as the Mayor of London and Evelyn Spahr as the Earl of Richmond, who becomes Henry VII. It is worth noting that (except for the Mayor of London) all the women ultimately oppose Richard. Richard’s enablers are, by and large, men.
Here, Muse is emphasizing the importance of female energy. Richard ignores this energy at his peril.
The play is called Richard the Third for a reason. But in the end, women prevail.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Richard the Third plays through March 10, 2019, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-547-1122 or go online.