Huntington’s ‘Teenage Dick’ puts Richard III in suburbia
BOSTON – Is it better to be loved or feared? And which path will lead directly to the power you are seeking?
Playwright Mike Lew (“Tiger Style”) has gracefully and skillfully transformed the events around the 15th Century monarch Richard III – the basis for Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” – and brought them to suburban Roseland High School, where events play out with all the drama and alas – tragedy – of The Bard’s masterpiece.
“Teenage Dick” now in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Jan. 2 is stunning and quite remarkable in many ways.
Two disabled actors give astonishing performances and blaze the way for the rest of the cast. Greg Mozgala is riveting as Richard Gloucester – Lew is hardly trying to disguise his intentions here – a bright, dedicated student who suffers from cerebral palsy. That, along with being bullied or ignored by other students has left him largely isolated from school life.
Richard, who was elected junior class secretary – no one else was interested — has been not-so-quietly seething over the “leadership” of junior class president Eddie (Louis Reyes McWilliams), a football star, marginal student and first-class bully who has been elected class president three times.
Richard takes his cues from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and launches a plot with the ultimate goal of becoming senior class president – by any means necessary. That is OK with Richard’s teacher, Elizabeth York (Emily Townley), who tells him if he becomes president, he will control funds that can help her drama club.
Richard’s one good friend, Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (Shannon DeVido), may be wheelchair bound, but has a razor-sharp wit and intellect that knows no such bounds. She is smart but cynical and while she may be is in Richard’s corner in his desire to become relevant, she is also nobody’s fool. She effortlessly steals scenes, sometimes using her motorized wheelchair as an effective adjunct acting tool.
When it eventually becomes apparent Richard is playing her like he’s playing everyone else, she reacts with a vengeance.
Also standing in the way of Richard’s goals is another candidate, Clarissa, a fundamentalist Christian aiming for Stanford who is holier-than-thou and not about to let you forget it. With the aid of Buck, she is disposed of quickly, ruthlessly and efficiently.
Richard still needs a way to dispose of Eddie. Richard pursues the lovely and talented Ann Margaret (Zurin Villanueva), Eddie’s ex-girlfriend. He wheedles and pleads with her to allow him into her life as a way of realizing his dreams and getting back at Eddie.
But she strikes a chord deep within Richard as they get ever closer – she teaches him how to dance and they out their talents on display — and it is then he faces a moral dilemma over whether he can find higher ground, and choose love over fear.
There are a few pieces of Lew’s plot that you’ll have to agree to swallow whole. Buck, for instance, is a student teaching assistant and is able to finagle the grades of other students, and then, of course, allowing a typical 17-year-old student body president to make large funding decisions.
Lew has imbued “Teenage Dick” with plenty of laughter, such as an absolutely hilarious scene in which Eddie and Richard debate each other before the entire school and the school decides to live-tweet it, which results in not only heckling form the audience but a bombardment of off-color tweets that are offensive in about every way possible.
Both Mozgala as Richard and DeVido as Buck are by their very nature advocates for disability rights and awareness, and for more opportunities when it comes to those with disabilities. They are walking, talking advertisements for the fact that talent overcomes any disability.
When things eventually go wrong for Richard – as they must, given the nature of the beast – social media cuts a destructive swath through the teens wielding it, much like another play about teen angst, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Richard, with blood on his hands, will break down the fourth wall, come forward and ask us what role we played in the outcome.
Each individual theater-goer will then have to decide that for themselves.
The Huntington production of “Teenage Dick.” Written by Mike Lew. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. Produced by Huntington Theatre Company in association with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Pasadena Playhouse. At Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts. Through Jan. 2. Tickets $25-$99. 617-266-0800, www.huntingtheatre.org