Given recent talk of "Second Amendment remedies" to advance certain political agendas, the kind of bloodthirsty, power-hungry machinations in Shakespeare's "Richard III" don't seem so terribly far removed from our own time.
That point is underlined in the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's energetic updating of the epic play, where the man who would stop at nothing to be king makes his entrance at what looks like a political rally, camera crews hanging on his every insincere word.
In this version, conceived and directed by Michael Carleton, the dark-suited Richard moves with rapid speed toward the throne — even faster here, given textual trims and some condensing of characters — all the while feigning lack of interest in higher office, like many a politician does today.
When all is said and murdered, the cost of Richard's quest still appalls. But let's face it: This guy is one of Shakespeare's most entertaining villains. And Seth Reichgott, who suggests a morphing of Rahm Emanuel, Dr. Strangelove and Blackadder, cavorts through the role with an engaging flair. Only a burst of boogieing at the halfway point slips over into Sillyville.
Tony Tsendeas shines as the oily Buckingham. William LeDent neatly captures the calm cruelty of Catesby. For the most part, the other actors, some assuming multiple roles, measure up well. Particularly assured, vibrant efforts come from Susan Rome (Elizabeth), Cherie Weinert (Duchess of York) and Graham Pilato (Hastings).
Carleton puts his players through their paces in taut, occasionally breathless fashion, aided by Angela Dockery's minimal set and nuanced lighting. Video and sound effects, especially effective in the dream sequence and final battle scene, complete this contemporary take on an ageless tragedy.
"Richard III" runs through Dec. 19 at St. Mary's, 3900 Roland Ave. $10 to $25. Call 410-366-8596 or go to baltimoreshakespeare.org.