Richard II, Lady-Style 

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Director JoAnn Johnson doesn't embellish in Richard II, so I won't either: The Northwest Classical Theatre Company's all-female production of Shakespeare is very good. How good? A quick glance at the publicity pictures—awkward and static as any play's PR shots—just pulled me back into the grip of its story, penned by the young bard a little before he cashed in on the Hal and Falstaff buddy comedies that would make him a hot commodity among the codpiece set.

The plot hinges upon King Richard II's (Paige Jones, pitch-perfect) decision to banish his eventual rival, Henry Bolingbroke (Cecily Overman). It shouldn't be too much of a spoiler for anyone interested enough to read this far to say, from here, the story unfolds toward the death of one of the two.

The all-female cast was inspired by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year, but that alone isn't why the production is such a revelation. This move could've easily lapsed into the kind of gimmick that keeps Ashland fat and happy with Shakespeare interpretations. NCTC's Richard II works because Johnson's direction is as elegant as a mathematical proof. She uses little more than subtly rhythmic and symmetrical blocking (and some scarlet scarves) to build each scene into a mini-spectacle of pomp and vengeance. Like I said, it's very good.

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