NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage: Take Us All to Amalfi, Kevin Spacey!

NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage

Opens Fri., May 16 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 97 minutes.

It’s good to be king. Yet having achieved that purpose in Richard III, already crippled of body and twisted by ambition, the new monarch blows it all. After an unlikely, ruthless rise, his reign is brief and unhappy. How much nicer then to be Kevin Spacey, leading a grateful troupe of Anglo-American Shakespeareans around the world on a world tour! Visiting the Great Wall in China, driving through the sand dunes of Qatar, cruising off the coast of Amalfi—now that’s the way you secure the loyalty of your subjects, and their love. (“I’ve got to find some more rich friends,” says one dazed actor who’s never been outside the U.S. before.)

So is this just a vanity project for Spacey and his stage director, Sam Mendes, a kind of belated infomercial for a theater production we can’t see? (The tour ended two years ago in New York.) In descending order of importance, this awkwardly titled documentary celebrates three things: our benevolent patron Spacey, the backstage camaraderie of theater folk, and . . . what’s the third thing again? Oh, right, Shakespeare. A few passing nods are tossed at the Arab Spring and oil barons in the Middle East, and Spacey gets a rehearsal laugh by delivering one raspy speech as Bill Clinton (“Myself? There’s none else by. Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I”). But to place Richard III in the context of our modern world, to solicit a few opinions outside the Spacey Dome—that’s not the assignment for film director Jeremy Whelehan.

That said, after seeing the doc and reading the Richard III reviews online, I wish Seattle had merited a stop on its grand tour. (The play was last mounted locally in 2006 by Seattle Shakespeare Co.) We don’t get to see any full scenes from the production, but Spacey’s usurper has a healthy self-regard, a hammy, canny politician’s sense of projection and (in the early going) a wicked sense of humor. (At one point he attacks Hastings’ severed head in a box, just to startle the court—See? This is what I’m capable of!) He’s selling an image, like any effective candidate.

More important, the movie’s an advertisement for theater, an argument for doing it big and grand. If I were teaching a high-school drama class, I’d take the kids to see it. If this guy can make it, I’d tell them, so could you. (I mean Richard, of course.)

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