An ‘exciting and subversive” Richard III

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In partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center, Babes With Blades’s interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays is exciting and subversive. From overt to subtle, disturbing to laughable, the production empowers a cast of female and nonbinary actors, some with disabilities seen and unseen, to portray the breadth of human experience in a way that’s visceral, violent, and most importantly, honest. Under the direction of Richard Costes, a deaf artist of color and disability advocate, the performance exudes open arms that are felt down to the diversity of audience members comfortable attending live theater that’s intentional in its accommodations and inclusion. At two and a half hours, the two-act is long but engaging, with open captioning a plus for all audience members, given the density of Shakespeare’s prose, and action-packed fight sequences a palate cleanser between soliloquies. 

Richard III Through 10/15: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; open captioning all performances 10/15, sensory friendly Sun 9/11-9/17, ASL Sat 9/24, audio description and touch tour Sat 10/1, ASL/audio description/touch tour/talkback Sun 10/9, livestreaming Sat 9/10 and Fri-Sat 9/23-9/24; Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, babeswithblades.org; $20-$35

Instead of presenting an ableist story at face value, BWBTC centers two actors with lived disability experiences as foils—Richard III (Aszkara Gilchrist) and Queen Elizabeth (Lauren Paige). While it’s easy to label who is good and evil here, these actors bring depth and gray areas, and the fact that they have disabilities is centered without making their subsequent choices feel like foregone conclusions. Gilchrist is positively Machiavellian while articulating, “I can smile and murder whilst I smile.” Her performance ranges from chilling to quite funny, well complemented by Paige’s passion and fury. Both actors’ canes ultimately exude more power than the swords that surround them, deliberately opening new, emotional entry points into a long-told story. Additional standouts: Pat Roache as a raging Queen Margaret and Kayla Marie Klammer, finding winning physical comedy among the tragedy as Lovell.

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