A Richard for Our Times

In the spring of 2015, at the Schaubühne Theater in Berlin, I saw Lars Eidinger perform the role of Richard III in Thomas Ostermeier’s production of the Shakespeare play. At the time, I was both bemused and entranced. “This isn’t Shakespeare,” I remember thinking, “but it is certainly something.” (Actually, if you want to know exactly what I thought then, you can take a look at the blog entry I wrote immediately after seeing the play.)

Now Ostermeier’s Richard III has come to BAM, where I saw it last night, on the first night of its four-night run in New York. This time around, knowing what to expect, I was less bemused and more entranced. Eidinger’s performance is one for the ages: one of those rare occasions when an actor uses every ounce of his physical skill to bring into palpable, visceral being, right onstage in front of us, a character who has previously existed only in words. The words, in this case, are still in German (with English subtitles), but the production itself is so intense that there seems to be no screen at all between the audience and that central, despicable, remarkable character. If you possibly can, get yourself over to Brooklyn to witness it.

I will be writing about the performance at greater length in a printed issue of The Threepenny Review, but for now I just want to comment on the way it has changed for me in the past two-and-a-half years. In 2015 I thought Ostermeier and Eidinger had turned the play from a tragedy into an entertainment, eliminating all the truly sad parts and making the hero into a charismatically comic monster. Now that we have our own charismatically comic monster at the head of the American government, spewing untruths and hatred as he hurtles his babyish way through a vengeful regime, I can sense the degree of felt truth behind Eidinger’s portrayal. The Germans, of course, can remember what it was like to have someone like this actually running the place. We, in our innocence, are only now beginning to apprehend what is possible when a dangerous, disgusting creature you somehow can’t take your eyes off of manages to get hold of the reins of power.

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