Michael Patrick Thornton stands tall as Shakespeare's Machiavellian monarch in the Gift Theatre's crownworthy production.
The villainous hero’s famous armor is an exoskeleton in the Gift Theatre’s new staging, in which Michael Patrick Thornton does something onstage he hasn’t in over a decade: He walks. Thornton, who uses a wheelchair in his daily life and in most of the action of the play, stands and delivers in his post-intermission entrance, his lower torso and legs strapped into a cutting-edge suit of equipment provided by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. With the guidance of an in-character RIC physical therapist and with motors whirring like a Plantagenet Iron Man, Thornton traverses the stage on his own two feet.
As undeniably cool (and moving, for those who've followed Thornton's career over years) as that sight is, Jessica Thebus's Richard III is no one-trick pony. In her sparse, in-the-round staging in the Steppenwolf Garage theater, Thornton's Richard looks back on his murderous manipulations from the moment before the Battle of Bosworth, allowing him to exist and observe the scenes from both present and future, frequently freezing the action for emphasis. Thornton's artifice-free performance is supported by a strong ensemble, with especially solid work by the women in the cast: Shanésia Davis as the revenge-seeking Margaret, Jenny Avery as Elizabeth and Caroline Dodge Latta as Richard's appalled mother.
The Gift Theatre at Steppenwolf Garage. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jessica Thebus. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 35 mins; one intermission.