Tag Archives: Steven Barkhimer

An Up Close Richard III In Cambridge

Richard III
Actor’s Shakespeare Project
Swedenborg Chapel
Harvard Square, Cambridge
Through March 11

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

One of the great enjoyments of Actor’s Shakespeare Project productions is they are held in different venues. This provides both an opportunity and a challenge for directors. In the decision to stage Richard III at the Swedenborg Chapel, director Robert Walsh was given both.

Upon entering the chapel and taking my seat in one of the pews, I was puzzled by how I would be able to see the play. After all, the only clearly visible place where an actor could be seen would be from the pulpit: Hardly the spot to stage the Battle of Bosworth Field.

The gothic architecture, shadowy lighting, and smell of incense in the air certainly created a fitting atmosphere in which to witness Gloucester as he plots and executes his way the throne. But again, there was the question of actually getting to see it all.

Steven Barkhimer as Richard III
Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots

Director Walsh answered my question from the moment the opening lines were said. This production would not take place on a stage, it would happen amongst the audience. The action, or at least 90% of it happens in the aisles alongside and in between the pews. Theatre does not get any closer or more personal than this. This works particularly well with Richard III as I do not believe there is another character in the works of Shakespeare who speaks directly to the audience as much as the title character does.

I have seen productions of Richard III where Gloucester comes across quite cunning and charming almost to the point where the audience members felt taken in by him and had pangs of guilt towards the end when his ruthlessness is on full display.

This is not the way Steven Barkhimer plays him. Dressed in black, walking with a limp, arm in a sling, and wearing a beret in the first act, and a headband representing a crown in the second, Mr. Barkhimer gives us a Richard whose phony charm is easily seen through from the outset. This approach allows us to see just how quickly the other characters are willing to compromise their morals in order to share in his power. They are not being taken in by his cunning, but instead willfully sell out to him. It is his power that corrupts the others, not his charm.

Steven Barkhimer and Mara Sidmore
(Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots)

The scene where Richard woos Anne while standing next to the body of her husband whom Richard had slain is a perfect example of this. The grieving Anne, played by Mara Sidmore, is disgusted by the overtures but also realizes the power she will gain by giving into Richard. Ms Sidmore plays this tension very well. It is morality versus practicality, and in spite of Anne’s protestations, we know early on what her decision will be. It’s not Richard’s talk, but rather what he has to offer that allows him to woo her in this way. Mara Sidmore is also excellent as Catesby. Wearing a black fedora style hat she elevates the role of Richard’s most loyal follower.

The cast is limited to six actors playing the numerous roles, and they all manage to move from one character to another along with their differing personalities seamlessly. Deaon Griffin-Pressley who plays Hastings, Rivers, Terrell, and Richmond also plays Murderer 2 opposite Paula Plum as Murderer 1. Mr. Griiffn-Pressley speaks with a Jamaican Patois while Ms Plum has the swagger of a 1930s movie gangster. It is an interesting combination and well chosen.

Ms Plum also plays Queen Elizabeth, and the scene where Richard attempts to get Elizaleth’s approval for marrying her daughter is particularly powerful in this intimate setting.

Michael Forden Walker plays Buckingham and Stanley, but is at his best in the role of the tragic Clarence. Clarence relating his dream is moving, and his plea for sparing his life is so dreadful and sad.

Jennie Israel
(Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots)

And now to Jennie Israel. Ms Israel comes close to stealing the show as she plays Brackenbury, King Edward, and Ratcliff. Her Margaret is just wonderful. Her presence is strong but not overwhelming, and her rhythm is beautiful. Ms Israel and Ms Plum are also impressive in red bows playing the two young and ill fated princes.

Richmond’s speech before the Battle of Bosworth Field is always powerful but more so in the hands of Deaon Griffin-Pressley as he walks through the aisles addressing the audience. Given in this setting it is particularly effective.

Richard gives his speech from the pulpit which is the highest spot in the chapel to perform from, it is a fitting place to have him speak just before his downfall. Mr. Barkhimer shows the failing despot giving it his one last try to keep the troops in line.

The battle itself is something to witness. It is a dance/fight scene brilliantly choreographed with drums playing in the background and the actors banging sticks together as they move through the chapel. I did duck for cover on more than one occasion.

Deaon Griffin-Pressley and Paula Plum
(Photo credit: Nile Scott Shots)

I doubt you will get the chance again to see such an intimate production of Richard III, nor one so creatively done. The chapel setting could not be more perfect. The lighting, which I was told was limited and challenging was also very effective. There was one scene where shadows are cast on the back wall that elicited a gasp from the audience. It was something to see.

It is also great for people like me who tend to fidget in their seats. While seating is in the pews, they are quite comfortable, and the ASP has also allowed quite a bit of seating room so audience members have no trouble shifting around to watch the action as it moves about them, and that is great news for us fidgeters.

For those of my readers who enjoy Shakespeare, you will be very pleased by this production. For those of you who have shied away from seeing these great works there could be no better introduction. It is helpful to read a synopsis of the play before going, but don’t be intimidated by it. Sit back and let it play out before you. You will be wooed.

A Fresh And Very Intense Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

At The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston
Through February 12th
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Paula Plum and Steven Barkhimer (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

When I read that Steven Barkhimer, whom I had recently seen in Warrior Class, was being cast as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Lyric Stage I had high expectations for him. Mr. Barkhimer was excellent as the political operative in Warrior Class, and I could envision him in the role of George. He did not disappoint me.

The current run at the Lyric includes three other fine actors, Paula Plum (Martha), Erica Spyres (Honey), and Dan Whelton (Nick). With direction by Scott Edmiston we are treated to a fresh look at this classic play. If you are looking for Liz and Richard go to Netflix. The actors on stage here bring their own interpretations to the roles and they do an excellent job of it.

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha.

If it has been a while since you have seen Edward Albee’s classic, or if this is your first time, you may be surprised at how many laughs there are in the first act. George’s sarcasm and cutting remarks directed at everyone in the living room where the play is set are quite funny and elicit much laughter. However, as Act II gets underway we find that he is not just drunk and having fun at the expense of his wife and guests, but is seething with self loathing. This loathing is shared by Martha who is also quite witty in her nastiness.

Barkhimer, Spyres, Whelton (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

The characters get uglier and nastier as the play progresses. This includes Nick and Honey who, at first, appear taken aback by the sadistic behavior but end up getting taken up by it.

Paula Plum captures Martha’s disappointment (that’s certainly a mild word for it) and frustration in George’s failure to accomplish more in his life, while her attacks on him only feed into his own self hate which feeds his anger. They fuel each other’s rage.

The set is interesting in that the frame around it that represents the outside of the house is off kilter as is the front door. As I looked at it I got the sense of the alcoholic haze the characters were in. It was like one of those old movies where a player gets hit over the head and the film goes blurry to give a picture of what he is seeing through his eyes.

Whelton, Plum, and Birhimer. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha. Gnawing at each other’s hearts in an alcohol infused rage it is hard to believe, though it is true, they actually love each other. The problem is, they hate their lives.

Ms Spyres and Mr. Whelton do a fine job playing the clean cut early 60s college educated couple who really are not so clean cut after all.

Woolf is not an easy play to watch. It is disturbing seeing these college faculty members cutting each other to pieces. It must have been extremely shocking when it first opened in 1962, and even with the language having been updated by Mr. Albee to include many expletives, you might think it would seem mild by today’s standards. It isn’t. This production is excellent and well worth seeing, but just remember, you won’t leave the theater smiling.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

To Play At the Lyric Stage January 13 Through February 12

Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum
Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum

The Lyric Stage has announced the cast for Edward Albee’s classic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set to run from January 1st through February 12th.

Directed by Scott Edmiston who’s My Fair Lady at the Lyric was named among “The Best Theatre of 2015” by the Wall Street Journal, the very strong cast will include Steven Barkhimer (Warrior Class) playing George. He will be joined by the award winning Paula Plum who will portray Martha. Erica Spyres (Company) and Dan Whelton (One Man, Two Guvnors) will play Honey and Nick.

The Lyric Stage is located at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston.

For ticket information:



In A Class Of Its Own

“Warrior Class”

Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston  Through November 13

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer
Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer

In this year when what surely can be called the worst presidential campaign in history is taking place, it would not surprise me if you would take a pass on seeing a play about a politician. I could hardly blame you, but in the case of Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class now playing at the Lyric Stage Company in Boston you would be making a big mistake.

Yes, Warrior Class is about a politician. It is also about manipulation, extortion, dirty deal making, political fundraising, selling out principles, and much more. That’s right, all the things we hate about politics. It is also about much more than that.

This is a moving and emotional work.

Michael Tow plays Julius Weishan Lee, an idealistic young Chinese American New York State Assemblyman who is looking to move up and run for Congress. He enlists the aid of political operative Nathan Berkshire who is portrayed by Steven Barkhimer who is reminiscent of the real life consultant Bob Beckel. Lee is a sincere young man who wants to run and serve based on his beliefs. Perhaps he is naive, I like to believe otherwise, to think he can make it without selling out, but he wants to take that route. However, a problem arises.

In the course of preparing for the race it is revealed, not publicly, that Lee has a skeleton in his closet in the form of Holly Lillian Eames, played by Jessica Webb. This poses a potentially serious problem for the idealistic Lee who has a wonderful resume that includes serving in Afghanistan and working for Teach For America. He is coming off giving an impressive speech at the Republican Convention and is seen as a rising star on the national scene.

Steven Barkhimer and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. HowardHolly and Nathan meet to try to work out a deal to keep things quiet. Yes, Holly, who claims to be a victim is also using the situation to blackmail Lee. It all seems like a pretty basic plot about a politician with something in his past to hide and his willingness to deal to make things go away. Something any of us over the age of two have seen in our lifetimes more often than we like.

The difference with Warrior Class is that it is much more than a sordid political story. Playwright Kenneth Lin digs deep into all of the characters. This is a moving and emotional work. It is like watching a game of chess as all involved maneuver to either gain from, suppress, or both from the incidents that occurred twenty years earlier. It turns out one of them is the chess master. During the play, which becomes quite intense, we are faced with asking ourselves questions. Can people change? Is it okay for a victim to become a perpetrator? Is it permissible for a man to use lies and manipulation in order to help a family member? Could any of us be one of the characters? Where is the line that should not be crossed? It is easy to walk away from this play feeling cynical, but I found much more to take away from this fine play.

Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard
Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

Actors Michael Tow, Steven Barkhimer, and Jessica Webb are superb in their roles.

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage,especially during the scene where Julius and Holly meet to discuss working things out. At that point emotions run very high. It is a pleasure to watch three very talented actors taking to the stage and performing seamlessly. It is performances such as this that remind me of why I am so drawn to the theatre. Dawn M. Simmons fine direction leaves enough ambiguity so when you depart the theater you will be thinking a lot about what you just saw and asking yourself many questions.

In a talkback after the performance, the question was asked if the role of Julius Weishan Lee was written specifically for a Chinese character. The answer was yes it was, but Michael Tow pointed out how different it was from so many roles he has played where he was cast because of his ancestry. He told us, while the script called for a Chinese actor, as the name implies, it could have been played by someone from any background. This freed him from feeling typecast. I agree with Mr. Tow. While the heritage of the leading character was a part of the play, it was not a play about a Chinese politician. Refreshingly, it is a play about a politician who happens to be Chinese.

While we are so focused, or perhaps, with good reason not, on the national political scene, this play will make you think more about local politics; especially, here in Massachusetts where corruption is a part of the culture.

I highly recommend you head down to the Lyric Stage and see this play. You will not be disappointed.

lyricstage.com Box Office: