On Nov. 10 — 15 hours after Britain's all-gal Julius Caesar folded its tent at St. Ann's Warehouse and stole away into the Brooklyn night, having triumphantly set the bar for same-sex Bard this season — the all-guy Shakespearean Brits officially retaliated at Broadway's Belasco with a double blast of the Bard: Richard III and Twelfth Night.
There appears to be safety in numbers here, because the result is something of a bang-bang bull's-eye for the recently reactivated Globe Theatre in London. Its first artistic director, Mark Rylance, led the charge to Broadway as the misshapen monster monarch of the first play and as the overheated coquette Olivia of the other.
There's a lot of cross-dressing going on here, as indeed there was in Shakespeare's day, and considerable effort has been made to approximate the arts of that time.
The cross-dressers are not difficult to spot. All the men playing women in the play — true to Shakespeare's time and tradition — seemed to have answered Milton Berle's "Makeup!" call and look as if they were dunked in flour. In elegant floor-length gowns, they glide across the stage with the greatest of ease, as if motorized or on roller blades.
The classical side of Rylance, which he honed and perfected at The Globe, is new to Broadway. He has already knocked off two Tonys in decidedly unclassical situations — in the 2008 revival of Marc Camoletti's Boeing-Boeing and in Jez Butterworth's 2009 Jerusalem — so now he appears to be finally getting down to some brass-tacks Bard, flexing his and his company's acting muscles with wildly different productions.
Rylance's dog, Apache, made his Broadway debut accompanying his master/mistress on an especially grand entrance, and he showed up with him at the press meet-'n'-greet that night at multi-pillared Gotham.
Rylance's Richard III must be the most hilarious—or the only hilarious — one on record; it's evil incarnate, as done by a sputtering, stuttering, doddering buffoon, someone you'd pay no attention to — and should. He's so deep in royal blood that his conscience is numb to himself and to us. In a stunning change of pace, he's a graceful gadfly dipping and diving in the heavy amorous traffic of Twelfth Night.
The latter, which would seem to be less taxing on him, has more playdates than Richard III, but he said the scheduling was not to give him a chance to rest up. "It's just a more popular play," he explained. The combination of the two was his idea.
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