Our most recent foray-cation took us once again to Manhattan’s East Village, this time to enjoy tea and dim sum at Saint’s Alp Teahouse and see Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Public Theater. Neither one of them disappointed, deep-fried vegetables and the cold dish of revenge both holding their fascination for us.
It had been a while since we’d eaten at Saint’s Alp, which is one of our favorite restaurants. It is my favorite tea house, although to be truthful I haven’t been to that many. It has the usual plain square room with a bar at one end where the food is prepared, with low square wooden tables and square chairs with no backs, evoking, I suppose, a colonial Chinese feel.
The menu is full of dairy free options – in fact, I think you’d have to hunt to find something that DOES have dairy. Even the tea with milk is dairy free, ostensibly – the “milk” is actually non-dairy creamer (although I would want to see the label on that creamer to make sure that it doesn’t have even a hint of milk in it, before I would be willing to order one of those).
We go to Saint’s Alp primarily for the crispy radish fritters and the sweet tea – I like green and Therese likes black, hold the tapioca bubbles for both of us. But each time we are there, we try something new to round out our meal. Last time, we slurped up ramen with fatty pieces of pork. This time, we had deep-fried string beans, shrimp balls and chicken sliders. Between the sweetness of the tea and all that deep-fried goodness, we left Saint’s Alp feeling great, ready for some murder and deceit.
Richard III at The Public Theater is a production of their Mobile Unit, which takes Shakespeare to places like prisons and schools. True to form, this production cut its teeth in front of prison crowds and also visited schools and homeless shelters before beginning its run at the Public Theater. The stage was surrounded on four sides by the audience, with no setting other than a few chairs and 4 wooden blocks which the actors moved around to serve as a funeral pyre and a throne and various other things.
Richard III is a showcase for the actor who plays the main part. I have seen Laurence Olivier‘s film portrayal, and also Al Pacino‘s ruminations on the part in his film “Looking for Richard.” Kevin Spacey also made a strong impression with his interpretation of the role earlier this year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So I was curious to see what Ron Cephas Jones, this production’s Richard, would bring to the part.
Mr. Jones employed 3 elements in bringing the character to life. First, there was his long lean physicality, bent into the cripple’s braces, suggesting a tortured soul from the first moment he limped onto the stage. Second, there were his eyes, circled with dark makeup and haunting, burrowing into anyone within their gaze. Third, there was his voice. His cadence, with lots of staccato, was not what I was used to hearing in the role. Mr. Olivier’s Richard spoke with lots of creepy smooth sweetness and quiet menace. Mr. Jones’ Richard also was full of menace, but even when his words denoted sweetness, his delivery gave them the feeling more of curse than promise, of coercion rather than seduction.
My favorite portrayal in the production was Suzanne Bertish as Queen Margaret of Anjou. In the scene where she curses Richard’s henchman, there was so much artfulness, in the way each turn of phrase could morph in mid-word from a promise to a threat. She inhabited the role, and as I watched and listened to her, I saw the character rather than the actor. She was a perfect foil to Richard, and as she displayed her power, with right on her side, I thrilled to think that there was indeed one character who could stand up to this evil beast of a king-in-the-making and truly threaten him.
Ms. Bertish ably embodied a couple of smaller roles as well. The balance of the company of 9 actors also agilely moved from character to character, although there were moments when it got confusing, as to which actor was which character. However, given the limitations of the production, in terms of spareness of setting, size of cast and the abbreviated length (they cut the play down by about half its usual running time), it nevertheless succeeded in giving us a true Shakespearean theatrical experience. We walked from the theater and up Lafayette Street to our bus stop with Mr. Jones’ haunting eyes in our thoughts. I for one was glad that the bastard got it in the end – although I knew the ending of the play, Mr. Jones’ Richard was so tenacious that I really wasn’t sure about the outcome until the final curtain.