Chicago Theater Review: NO BEAST SO FIERCE (Oracle and DCASE at the Storefront Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 11, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

I DID IT FOR THE DAUGHTERS

Does evil alter when it switches sexes? Right now the Storefront Theatre is hosting No Beast So Fierce, adaptor/director Max Traux’s gender-bending exploration of equal-opportunity malevolence. In 95 minutes Oracle Productions’ free-form reinterpretation of Richard III (which, however truncated, also includes a Shakespeare sonnet and allusions to Macbeth) turns Shakespeare’s hunch-backed monster, the slaughterer of the little princes in the Tower, into the Duchess of Gloucester (still named Richard and perceived as male despite the script alterations).

Katherine Keberlein as Richard III in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

As played by Katherine Keberlein (ominously resembling Carly Fiorina as she channels Eva Peron) against Jeremy Clark’s pulsating projections of galloping jockeys, this Richard is a cool villain even as “he” anticipates his “My kingdom for a horse” demise in advance: No stereotypical Cruella de Ville, “he” carries a riding crop, wears high boots, and barks orders like any testosterone-ridden CEO.

Katherine Keberlein as Richard III, Jeremy Trager as Hastings, and John Arthur Lewis as King Edward in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

Truax’ stylized scenario features a preliminary dumb show, mime sequences, sung and danced dialogue, and a menacing score by Jonathan Guillen. It’s performed in a dilapidated drawing room–Joanna Iwanicka’s caricature of a Victorian “old boys” club–where paintings of previous monarchs chronicle the regime changes between the white and red roses.

The ensemble in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

Of course, Richard’s rise is actually a controlled fall, exacerbated by the paranoia that makes this fratricidal serial murderer destroy his clan to reach the throne. Notable victims are the overly accommodating Hastings (Jeremy Trager), Richard’s venal brother Clarence (Colin Morgan), not drowned in a butt of Malmsey as usual; grasping, melodramatic Rivers (Mike Steele), hoisted on his own petard, and Prince Edward (Morgan), standing in for both doomed boys.

Jeremy Trager as Hastings and Mike Steele as Rivers in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

No Beast So Fierce spares us the play’s most propagandistic violence, preferring abstract malice to gritty gross-outs from the 1480s. The point, it seems, is to contemplate cruelty from a distance, specifically the fluidity of overreaching ambition as it surges from one sex to the other.

Mickey O’Sullivan as Buckingham in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

Keberlein’s casting inevitably makes ironic Richard’s disdain for “womanish” behavior, as well as Richard’s perverse flirtation with Queen Elizabeth (Erica Bittner), a vilifying victim. In this adaptation’s biggest departure from the Bard, “Richard” declares that he did his dirty doings for the sake of his daughters (an empty boast considering he was the last of the Plantagenets). In any case Keberlein’s carefully calculated malice aforethought feels more like some bad career choices than Richard’s organic and unstoppable overkill.

Katherine Keberlein as Richard III, Mike Steele as Rivers, and Erica Bittner as Queen Elizabeth in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

Well, after Margaret Thatcher, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Catherine the Great, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth Bathori, Anne Bonney, and Ma Barker, it’s not exactly news that the beast of whom none is fiercer can be feminine. Oracle’s retelling is basically an exercise in excess, an action speculation on how a Plantagenet’s predation can pass for ferocious feminism. Well, it never hurts to know how low we can go. There’s nothing like war to make us savor the prospect of peace. As always, Oracle’s public access art is free to the public, with reservations requested.

John Arthur Lewis as King Edward and Mike Steele as Rivers in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

photos by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Inc.

Erica Bittner as Queen Elizabeth in Oracle Theatre's production of NO BEAST SO FIERCE. Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux.

No Beast So Fierce
Oracle Productions
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)
Storefront Theater, 66 E Randolph
Thurs-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2
ends on November 8, 2015
for tickets, (FREE in Public Access Theatre), visit PublicAccessTheatre.org

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit TheatreinChicago.com

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