(The Prenzie Players will present 'Richard II' by William Shakespeare at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at the Rock Island Masonic Temple, 420 18th St. Tickets are $8.)
The Prenzie Players' production of 'King Richard the Second,' the first part of the Henriad that continues with 'King Henry the Fourth' in February into March and 'King Henry the Fifth' in May, is both bemusing and amusing.
The director is a group -- the cast, led by J.C. Luxton, Jill Sullivan-Bennin and Tracy Skaggs -- and they've turned the Rock Island Masonic Temple into a dozen sets, largely through the power of the imagination.
The cast is a real gender bender, to say the least. The title role is played by Stephanie Burrough, whose voice is sometimes swallowed by the less than perfect acoustics of the hall.
You can hear Maggie Woolley, who plays the festy Baron Mowbray, the wife of King Richard, and an anonymous soldier. In fact, most of the cast plays multiple parts, which takes some sorting out.
Linnea Ridolfi is the Duke Aumerle (later the Earl of Rutland) and brings a great deal of stage presence.
In several of the scenes in the royal bedchamber, it's hard to figure out who is entangled beneath the royal purple bedspread. If you're seated on the right side of the room, your neck gets a good twisting to view that action, and the same thing is true of the balcony scene.
Dee Canfield's voice fills the room, and she has moments of deep grief and boffo humor in her roles as the widow of the Duke of Gloucester, the Bishop of Carlisle and the Duchess of York.
Carrie Clark as Sir Henry Green, M.P., and three anonymous characters, and Jessica Armentrout as Sir John Bushy, M.P., a monk, and a soldier, both perform well in all their roles.
There are some men in this line-up. Matt Moody, Bryan Woods and John Turner are King Richard's uncles, J.C. Luxton is Hotspur and Aaron Sullivan is his father. Jeff DeLeon is the Sheriff of Leicester, always swigging from his pocket flask.
Probably the most imposing performance is that of Jeremy Mahr as Henry of Bolingbroke. His spectacular swordplay with Mowbray, his asthmatic agony and his royal presence are impressive.
Many of the scenes are played with no lighting other than flashlights held by the actors, and the light switch is turned off frequently. The execution scene goes dark with axes raised just before the fatal blows are heard.
Dee Canfield walking on her knees to petition the king and grabbing her husband's boots to prevent him from turning in their son for treason garner some laughs.
J.C. Luxton really cuts loose with a tirade and fierce facial expressions.
The audience becomes part of the play from time to time, being commanded to rise and bow to the king, and having their fingers tied to those of their neighbors with bits of twine in the gardeners' scene.
Costuming is formal attire and more swashbuckling outfits, and the actors frequently cover their faces.
This is an early play of Shakespeare's which is seldom performed. It takes place 'in 1399 and Right Now,' and that takes some sorting out.
Some members of the cast will continue in their roles when the Henriad resumes Feb. 23-25 and March 1-3 with 'King Henry the Fourth' and in 'King Henry the Fifth' on May 18-20 and 24-26.