Rylance Triumphs As Evil King, Mournful Countess: Stage

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Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Mark Rylance is Shakespeare's malformed monarch in "Richard III." The Shakespeare's Globe production is playing on Broadway in repertory with "Twelfth Night."

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Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Mark Rylance is Shakespeare's malformed monarch in "Richard III." The Shakespeare's Globe production is playing on Broadway in repertory with "Twelfth Night." Close

Mark Rylance is Shakespeare's malformed monarch in "Richard III." The Shakespeare's Globe production is playing on... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Mark Rylance, from left, Samuel Barnett, and John Paul Connolly as Richard, Queen Elizabeth and Ratcliff in "Richard III." The British production is running on Broadway through February 2, 2014. Close

Mark Rylance, from left, Samuel Barnett, and John Paul Connolly as Richard, Queen Elizabeth and Ratcliff in "Richard... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Paul Chahidi, from left, Colin Hurley and Angus Wright as Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth Night." The all-male production is running at the Belasco Theatre in New York. Close

Paul Chahidi, from left, Colin Hurley and Angus Wright as Maria, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Samuel Barnett, left, and Mark Rylance as Viola and Olivia in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." The play is directed by Tim Carroll. Close

Samuel Barnett, left, and Mark Rylance as Viola and Olivia in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." The play is directed by Tim Carroll.

Mark Rylance, who has won Tony Awards for his horny airline pilot in “Boeing-Boeing” and his ex-daredevil burn-out case in “Jerusalem,” is putting on the show of a lifetime at the Belasco Theatre.

Two shows, in fact: As malformed monarch King Richard III and, at alternate performances, as Olivia in Shakespeare’s cross-dressing, twin-turning romantic comedy “Twelfth Night.”

Cast with an all-male company, these shows are wonderful. They have a classical polish and consistency rarely seen on U.S. stages. And I usually don’t love single-sex Shakespeare (what was required by law back then is merely a gimmick today).

The recent all-female “Julius Caesar” and now these have made a pretty strong counter-argument, though where Phyllida Lloyd’s “Caesar” was brutally contemporary, a conservative strain runs through these new shows.

The productions come from Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Audience members are urged to arrive early and watch the actors get into character and costumes on the stage, serenaded by musicians on period instruments.

Candelabras with real candles are lit and rise above the unfettered space. The theater is never blacked out. The castles and battlefields of England and the seaside town of Illyria -- all are left to our imagination.

That also leaves us to savor impeccable performances under Tim Carroll’s direction. Rylance is free to play a garrulous Richard, “cheated of feature by dissembling nature,” as a not-quite hunchback, with a flopping, useless left hand.

Lethal Lies

His Richard crows with glee at every lethal lie, venomous kiss, broken promise. Rylance has mastered each of Richard’s 1,171 lines and adds guffaws, asides, stutters and winces.

As Olivia, he glides across the stage like a hovercraft, first veiled in mourning weeds then transformed by her affection for Cesario, who is in fact the disguised Viola (and thus, in this case, a man playing a woman playing a man).

Also to be savored is Angus Wright, who plays the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek in “Twelfth Night” and Buckingham in “Richard III.” Colin Hurley is similarly brilliant as Sir Toby Belch in the comedy and King Edward in the tragedy.

“Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” run in alternating repertory through Feb. 2, 2014 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *****

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on U.K. theater, Martin Gayford on European art, John Mariani on wine, Lance Esplund on U.S. art and Craig Seligman on books.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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