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On the Elizabethan stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, "Richard II" contains some of Shakespeare's most beautiful poetry. Artistic Director Libby Appel's tremendous production seems to draw many parallels with Wagner's "Ring." It opens with the first few bars of the E flat bass pedal of "Das Rheingold." She used music from "Die Walkure" as the basis for a production several seasons ago, so she's certainly familiar with it, and is inclined to use it. When she repeats it to open the second part of the program, that seems to cement it. Indeed, the War of the Roses gives her the sweeping canvas she needs to create a production of the magnitude of the "Ring," and "Richard II" in her hands is as grand a prelude in every aspect as "Das Rheingold" is in Wagner's work.

A voice appears over the opening music saying that a King is anointed by God, and man cannot depose him. This is reinforced with Richard standing alone, spotlit on the balcony, while the courtiers singing the "Kyrie," in a procession to further drive the point home. Richard takes his throne, but his eyes look over the heads of the audience, and not at any of his subjects on the stage. Bolingbroke and Mowbray are summoned to rectify their quarrel, and Richard finally comes into the world of his subjects. Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of treason for hatching a plot against the Duke of Gloster. That fell office brings tragedy to everyone who holds it for the next several generations.

Bolingbroke wears the symbol of the Red Rose over his heart, as do all of his followers. Throughout the play, this is the symbol of the House of Lancaster, which he represents. In the War of the Roses, Lancaster is pitted against the White Rose of the House of York. In this play York is led by the old Duke, a neutral, and his son Aumerle, a friend of Richard. The War of the Roses doesn't begin until Henry VI, although we have both Henry IV plays and Henry V in between. OSF will skip to all three of the Henry VI, War of the Roses plays next season in a production by Appel with Scott Kaiser, the Voice and Text Director for this.

Richard II plants the seeds for what will come, throughout, and it's stressed in this production. When he banishes Mowbray, the Duke warns that there will be future troubles because of it. Richard laughs at Aumerle's account of Bolingbroke being led into banishment. How he nodded, waved to, and courted the common people on his way out of London, but the commoners would form the base of his power when he returned to take the throne.

Richard and his retinue arrive in revelry at the deathbed of his uncle John of Gaunt. Gaunt pleads with Richard to rescind his son Bolingbroke's banishment, then rebukes him for spending the public treasury. After his death, Richard appropriates his lands and goods to finance his war against the Irish. York, Richard's last uncle, upbraids him and warns that if he takes Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford's goods, "you pluck a thousand dangers on your head." Richard then makes him governor and goes off to England

Hereford, now Lancaster returns. Northumberland, Worcester, and a number of other nobles join him, and he also has the support of the commons. Reports spread that the King is dead. Richard returns the next day and prays to the earth to take his part. The previous day he had 20,000 men who would fight for him, but when they heard the rumors of his death, they allfled to Bolingbroke. He says "My kingdom is care, and what loss is it to be rid of care?" He's resigning himself to it, but doesn't really believe what's happening. "Let's talk of graves, worms, epitaphs." Richard realizes he's lost his kingdom. "Let us sit on the ground, and tell sad stories of dead kings." He discharges his followers and "Let them hence away from Richard's night to Bolingbroke's fair day."

Part 2 has Richard, once again on the balcony to the opening bars of "Das Rheingold." The voice speaks of divine kings, but Richard's sun is setting. Bolingbroke comes to the castle where Richard is. He offers to lay down his arms if Richard will rescind his banishment and restore his lands. Richard says "God is mustering armies of pestilence against your children." He accepts Bolingbroke's terms "or that I were as great as my grief, or lesser than my name." He says he'll give up his jewels for a set of beads, "for do we must what force will have us do."

Bolingbroke is being crowned King Henry IV. The Bishop of Carlisle says "If you take the crown the blood of the English will groan for this act. Prevent it." He's immediately arrested for treason. Like Alberich cursed the ring, so too does this crown become cursed when Henry seizes it from Richard. "Good King, great King, though not greatly good." Henry orders Richard taken to the tower as he's coming apart." Conveyors are you all that rise thus nimbly by a true king's fall. Children yet unborn shall rue this day of thorns." Richard tells Northumberland that he and Henry will turn on each other. Northumberland knows how to unplant Kings and usurp a kingdom. Northumberland will think that he has not enough. As with Fasolt and Fafner in Wagner's "Ring." Henry has to conquer him in the Henry IV plays.

Westminster hatches a plot against Henry to restore Richard. Aumerle has had to resign his title, and has become Rutland. York discovers the paper with the plot in his son's coat. Even though he has been part of the plot to overthrow King Richand, he now calls his son a traitor for wanting to restore that King. He betrays him to Henry, but Aumerle beats him andconfesses. Henry remembers his own plot and pardons him, but not the others.

When Richard is in his cell he craves a friend, but there are none for him. Suddenly his former groom appears and they speak for awhile. The groom has gone to considerable effort to find Richard. As he leaves, the assassins rush in. Richard kills two, but Exton killshim. Henry wanted him dead, but not like that. The prophecy will be fulfilled that "the blood of the English will manure the ground." That's next year with the three War of the Roses plays, Henry VI. For this year, this stupendous production of "Richard II" continues outdoors on the Elizabethan stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland through October 10.

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