It’s too bad you won’t see Wayward Productions’ Richard III with St. Patrick’s Saturday night fully raging overhead. Little else could really prime you for leather-clad actors in a basement bar roaring through what’s arguably Shakespeare’s greatest history play. As Pink Floyd and the Stones blare, you’re offered pills and lines and treated to some preshow York-Lancaster brawls. Then the play proper starts: “Listen, motherfuckers, are we not well-met?”
In Wayward’s imaginative and intense inaugural production, the House of York is transposed into the Warlocks, a motorcycle gang, and you’re sitting in their hangout. The immersive concept and setting are surprisingly suited to the tragi-history in which the doomed Duke, Richard (John Byrnes), climbs over piles of bodies to grasp the crown of England. Director Carlo Lorenzo Garcia and the uniformly potent and liberally tattooed cast immediately draw you into their world; that immediacy is the show’s greatest strength.
Despite some fine acting and emotional honesty, the true propulsion of the play—Richard’s deadly ambition and nefarious charisma—feels rushed, and the already complex tangle of relationships is muddled. There are a few measured moments, notably the anguished conclave of the gang’s women (particularly Brittany Ellis as the Lancastrian Queen Margaret, who’s tweaking and sports a neck tattoo that reads “FUCK YORK”). Yet Richard’s determination “to prove a villain” and become king isn’t clearly established in his key first speech and gets lost in the beer-swilling fray. Though Richard’s story is entertaining as hell, in this joint it’s no longer Richard’s play.