Central Works takes us on crusade with ‘Richard The First’

(Charles Kruger)

Rating: 3/5 » Recommended

Of all the Kings of England, Richard The Lionheart (one of the very few English monarchs known to posterity by a title rather than a number), is among the most intriguing. He was known as Couer de Lion from his youth. The family drama of the warring Platagenets (the sons of Henry the 2nd rebelled against their own father who in turn imprisoned their mother Eleanor) is full of fascination.

In the late 12th Century, Richard was the first of the European monarchs to respond to the Pope’s call for a third Crusade to take back Jerusalem from the infidels. During his reign, there was an infamous riot against the Jews in London for which he was initially blamed. But then he turned on the rioters and protected the Jews.

Joshua Schell as Richard The Lionheart. Photo credit: Jim Norrena.

When Richard “took up the cross” to invade Jerusalem, he publicly sought forgiveness for a life of sin, and many historians (and most of his contemporaries) understood this to be a confession of sodomy and a promise to quit it.

Then there is the fascinating mystery of why, 30 miles from Jerusalem, he gave up his quest, and, too, that he tried to arrange a marriage between his sister and the brother of the Islamic sultan, proposing a joint occupation of Jersualem. (This did not happen.)

Well. That is a lot of challenging, dramatic material and Central Works has taken it on with three full length plays (Richard The First, Parts 1, 2 and 3). The script by Gary Graves, developed after a series of collaborative workshops involving the entire company, is uneven, sometimes silly, sometimes thrilling, often insightful. It is helped enormously by a strikingly competent cast, all of whom have moments of great dramatic intensity. Joshua Schell, as Richard, is onstage for most of the three plays and offers an extraordinary performance. Although the script is sometimes overwrought and occasionally heavy handed or pompous, Schell’s performance makes up for a multitude of flaws.

Milissa Carey, as Eleanor of Acquitaine,  is a deliciously seductive schemer. The character may owe too much, perhaps, to James Goldman’s version in “Lion In Winter”, but, on the other hand, that is not a bad model and Carey is marvelously entertaining.

Armando McClain as the Sultan’s brother Kalil manages to suggest a wealth of complex feeling and intellectual depth while portraying a character who is intentionally stiff and taciturn. Megan Trout, an actress who never seems to disappoint, is fine as Richard’s sister Joanna. John Patrick Moore as both Philip, the king of France and Leopold, the Duke of Austria, is chillingly conspiritorial and Kathryn Zdan does well in the dual rules of “Rachel, a Jew” and “Peter, a boy”.

Lovers of medieval history, fans of “The Lion In WInter” and those willing to make an effort to appreciate experimental theatre that is far from the usual fare will find much to enjoy in the three parts of “Richard the First”.

“Richard The First” continues for one more week, closing on November 18th. The three parts will be performed in reverse order on the 15th, 16th and 17th (each play does stand on its own). Or all three plays can be seen as a marathon on the 18th. For further information, click here.

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“Richard The First, Parts 1, 2 and 3” by Gary Graves, produced by Central Works. Director: Jan Zvaifler. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lights: Gary Grave. Sound: Gregory Scharpen.

Eleanor: Milissa Carey. Khalil/Joachim: Armando McClain. Philip/Leopold: John Patrick Moore. Richard: Joshua Schell. Joanna: Megan Trout. Rachel/Peter: Kahryn Zdan.

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