So in Richard, its 50th original production, Buntport Theater Company transformed their space in Denver into the gymnasium of the Apple Valley Junior High for a gathering of the Denver chapter of the Richard III Society. With half a basketball court and hoop, divisional championship flags and brightly painted walls, the stage was set as the audience filed in to take our seats in what amounted to the bleachers section. (This is really well done, so much so that for a moment I was thinking, “Gee, I don’t remember Buntport being in a school.”)
And here I thought I was going to be seeing some kind of medieval court sendup or something, which is my bad for making any assumptions about what Buntport is up to. When last we met, it was in their parking lot last spring for a dizzying trip to Mars in Space People in Space. Now back inside, finally, the focus is on a decidedly niche, nerdy little group of Richard III enthusiasts who are excited to have a special guest in the form of screenwriter and lightly qualified historian Philippa Langley (Hannah Duggan).
Erik Edborg (l) and Brian Colonna as the Georges
But first, society president George (Erik Edborg) and his counterpart and secretary Also George (Brian Colonna) must deal with their newest and most disruptive member, played with trashy panache by Erin Rollman. Dressed for the meeting as Queen Margaret of Anjou, Rollman’s character is both bull-in-the-china-shop and skunk-at-the-garden-party for the two Georges. Festooned with an outrageous hairdo (think Princess Leia caught in a pair of fishing nets), full-on robes, super-pointy red shoes and a bloody prop head hanging from a string around her shoulder looking like something from the Spirit Halloween bargain bin, the Queen appears to know a great deal more about her history than the Georges. And while she’s busy braying sarcastic criticism at the guys, her cosplay reveals her own deep need to be here — for where else could she go?
Silly, yes, but the level of detail the Buntport team puts into this is impressive — a testament to their geeky devotion to the topic at hand as well as, no doubt, a lot of time and frustration pent up after two years of pandemic bullshit. Enter the lobby and two entire walls are covered with a timeline that includes everything from the death of various Richards to the births of the Buntport crew. In addition to the program, we also get “Queen Margaret’s Handout!!!” — a 12-page newsletter kinda thing that has an “overly detailed timeline” of English monarchs from the 14th and 15th centuries, an “overly simplified family tree of Buntport Theater,” a quick history of the graham cracker, some stuff about split-crotch drawers, a Ricardian word search, a bibliography and a bunch of other stuff that mirrors the high-speed collision of history and comedy onstage.
There really isn’t any other place in Colorado you can find this kind of original work being done, with everything created by the four actors named above as well as SamAnTha Schmitz off stage. The pure joy evident in the creation and presentation of Richard is a heartwarming reminder that it’s still possible to keep a theatrical freak flag flying — ya just gotta believe.
Hannah Duggan as Philippa
From the get-go, we understand that there’s plenty of friction between the Georges, with Colonna’s character focused on an orderly running of the meeting and Edborg’s more focused on satisfying his outsized ego. When we finally meet the guest of honor, Philippa, she’s already been eclipsed by the Queen, and Duggan’s character has to fight her way back to relevance with her slideshow documenting the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton underneath a parking lot in Leicester a decade ago (Philippa is a real person and this is all true, BTW).
Also George points out that they already know all about this, but for Philippa, it’s all she’s got. Meanwhile, Queen Margaret continues to grab the mic and spout all of her many and varied theories about what was really going on back during The War of the Roses and the 100 Years War — none of which I will make the slightest attempt to document here. Rollman is all over the place, at one point standing next to me in the audience chomping on Goldfish while ranting about accents and later spearheading the climax of what’s clearly the craziest fucking game of basketball every staged in the vicinity of Lipan and W. 7th Avenue.
To keep up, Philippa resorts to DaVinci Code-style numerology and BS letter pairings to “Dan Brown the shit” out of the proceedings. Still gamely trying to keep things on track, Also George nonetheless starts to run with the crazy as George goes all in and the two ultimately end up limping about as they suffer from jock itch and athlete’s foot. No worries, it all sorta makes sense at one point.
As Richard lurches toward its conclusion, the audience is left addled and spent — but in a good way. At 90 minutes sans intermission, it’s a shot-out-of-a-cannon experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Watching this familiar cast put themselves out there time after time in so many funny, wildly original shows is one of the brightest spots on the Denver theatre scene. Congrats to Buntport on 50 shows — we’re all looking forward to the next 50!