David Kinder

Richard III is a weird-ass play. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy; it’s not human enough to be a tragedy. It’s the fourth, final play in Shakespeare’s first historical series, in which he argued that the ancestors of the reigning Tudor queen, Elizabeth I, did a very good thing by killing Richard III because he was a York a bad guy who deserved to die.

But in playwright Mike Lew’s modern adaption, Teenage Dick, the scheming rings a lot truer. The remodel takes Shakespeare’s story of a royal hunchback whose murderous intentions are fixed on acquiring the throne of England and translates it into the tale of a brooding teenager with cerebral palsy, whose eyes are set on becoming class president. And, frankly, Richard just makes more sense as a teenager. The king’s evil has always been hard to empathize with, but placed in the hands of a power-mad teenage boy, the Machiavellian machinations seem perfectly immature.

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This reimagining is about turning over expectations. And what could be more unconventional than casting an actor with CP in the role of Richard (Christopher Imbrosciano) and then watching him seduce his earnest, blonde classmate Anne Margaret (Kailey Rhodes)? It shouldn’t be surprising, how hypnotically the interplay unfolds between Richard and Anne, but there was an unexpected fire to it and legit involuntary toe-tapping (mine, sorry) when they danced.

Teenage Dick carries a mandate: The characters of Richard and Richard’s fair-weather ally Buck (Tess Raunig, an electric scene-stealer) must be played by actors with disabilities. This is because the play was commissioned by Brooklyn’s Apothetae theater company, who seek to make the experience of disabled people more visible. But although Anne Margaret is initially guilted into going out with Richard so that people will call her a nice person, you don’t have to follow that pitying path. You can just see Teenage Dick because it’s good. The teenagery-ness and archetypes of US high school chafe a little at the beginning, but by the end, Teenage Dick is pure fury.

[Correction: The print version of this review stated incorrectly that Christopher Imbrosciano has multiple sclerosis. The web version has been corrected to say he has cerebral palsy. We regret the error.]