By Arnold Wayne Jones

Richard of Gloucester (Rene Moreno) woos Lady Anne (Christina Vela) in Kitchen Dog’s new adaptation of "Richard III."

Kitchen Dog’s reimagining of ‘Richard III’ with Rene Moreno reminds us that Dallas’ best stage director is still one of its most potent actors

Anticipation has got to be the sharpest two-edged sword. Ever since Kitchen Dog Theater announced last year that Rene Moreno — for the last decade Dallas’ most honored stage director — would return to the front of the footlights playing the lead in Shakespeare’s "Richard III," I have been racked with excitement and dread. What a thrill to have Moreno back onstage in one of the plum parts for any actor! … But what if he sucked?

What wasted energy that was. Nearly from his entrance, Moreno reminds the audience that talent endures. I don’t get many chillblanes in the theater (I wish I got more), but I felt a tingle up my spine three times watching Moreno: his two duels of wits with Lady Anne (Christina Vela) and Queen Elizabeth (Tina Parker), and his sword duel with Richmond (David Goodwin). In the first two, there’s a voyeuristic joy in listening in on such intense, private conversations. In the last, it’s the mastery of a fight that is scarily well-matched. What more can you ask?

The production, adapted and directed by Ian Leson, works in a way it wouldn’t have without Moreno in the lead. Leson has changed Richard’s disability from his famed hunchback to paralysis, and Moreno, who has used a wheelchair for more than 15 years, brings real pathos and authenticity to that.

In this modernized telling, everyone at court, including the aged king, can dance to the hip-hop strains of Kris Kross’ "Jump" and can scale stairs, leaving Richard odd man out — and bitter about it.

But Richard is a schemer, and while his anger boils inside him, he never reveals it to anyone else. Shakespeare is full of characters pretending to be other people (from cross-dressers to actual actors), but none make performance the art that Richard does. That he can convince everyone around him of his sincerity seems believable because Moreno so completely convinces us. And you know what they say about sincerity: Once you can fake that…

That’s all good news. The bad news is that the play— trimmed by a third, with nearly 20 characters parsed among eight actors — is sometimes choppy and disjointed. If you haven’t read "Richard III" since high school, a good brushing up might clarify things when Vela reappears as Queen Margaret moments after leaving the stage as Lady Anne. The updates don’t all make sense either. (Cell phones and knife fights? Richard seems like the Uzi type.)

Other changes work better. Turning Buckingham (Cameron Cobb, full of funny affectations) into a modern political handler — Karl Rove to Richard’s W — makes the coup d’etat Richard orchestrates eerily resonant of the 2000 Florida count. And thankfully, Leson and Moreno squeeze every drop of comedy from the material. You’ll laugh more than you imagine.

Parker stands out among the solid supporting cast, but this is really Moreno’s show. His Richard, despite being in a wheelchair, is as lithe and predatory as a cat, only pouncing when it’ll do the most damage. "Richard III: Hell on Wheels." Now that’s an update of the Bard everyone can get behind.

The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through May 3. Thursdays–Saturdays, select Wednesdays at 8 p.m., select Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. $27–$32. 214-953-1055.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2008.
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