Wine in the Wilderness begins with the sounds of '60s revolution, as a Harlem painter named Bill (Shanga Parker) tries to work in his apartment while a race riot rages below. He is laboring to finish a triptych on African womanhood—the innocent child and the archetypal African queen are done, but he needs to paint the final panel, the degraded, defeated street woman, born and raised in Harlem, with a "backwoods-chick" stupidity. Bill's friends Sonny-Man (a writer) and Cynthia (a social worker) find the perfect subject in a nearby bar—rioters burned her apartment building—and coax her up to Bill's apartment. "Niggers, niggers, niggers," she starts in, but Bill asks her to use more palatable language. "Well," she replies, "the Afro Americans burnt down my house." Tommy-Marie (April Yvette Thompson) isn't degraded—she's poor, unlearned, and brash—but her new false friends can't stop laughing behind her back and condescending to her face.

Childress's script, written in 1969, nails a peculiar Marxist-artist contempt for the masses, thinly veiled as a desire to uplift and better them. (Bill's "backwoods chick" sounds suspiciously like Marx's "idiocy of rural life.") When Bill tells Tommy-Marie "the best thing you can do for your people is sit there and let me put you on canvas," we realize he loves himself above all else. "Black is beautiful," he coos to her. "Then how come I don't feel beautiful when you talk to me?" she asks.

Wine in the Wilderness shows its age in a few spots. The play resolves with an early-'60s optimism—Bill gets his comeuppance and will march alongside Tommy-Marie toward a new tomorrow—that feels tragic, knowing how far short of the ideal America has fallen in the decades since. William Hall Jr. is sly and funny as a grizzled street survivor named Oldtimer; Lakeetra Knowles is conspicuously weak as Cynthia; Parker plays a reserved Bill, full of opinions but not passion, leaving Thompson plenty of room to take over the play as Tommy-Marie. She is great and hits all her notes: brassy at the outset, privately insecure and anxious, regally incensed when she learns her role in Bill's triptych. The enlightened revolutionaries condescend to Tommy, but she is nobler than her hosts.

If Wine in the Wilderness is about the psychology of the oppressed, Richard III eavesdrops on the oppressors. Or rather, the oppressor—Intiman's large cast is stuffed with bodies to wail and be betrayed, but the play, and the production, come alive in Richard and his intimate relationship to the audience. Richard is a hunchbacked butcher (his victims include his wife, his nephews, and his brother, who is drowned in a barrel of wine), but he is weirdly charismatic, especially in the hands of actor Stephen Pelinski, who gives a no-bullshit, no-histrionics performance that emphasizes Richard's magnetic will to power and grim sense of humor. His frequent soliloquies—delivered front and center—turn the audience into his confessor and co-conspirator. Director Bartlett Sher heightens the effect by turning up the house lights for the speeches, launching Richard off the stage and into our laps. They feel like (refreshingly honest) press conferences—which, I imagine, is the intent. As Sher notes in the program: "Certain stories come back around when you need them most."

The rest of the cast is serviceable, with special mentions for Lenne Klingaman as the doomed Lady Anne and a fiery Hans Altwies as Richmond, who slays and succeeds Richard. Just before the battle, he tells his army that the opposing soldiers won't have the spirit to fight because they distrust their commander-in-chief: "For what is he they follow? Truly, gentlemen, a bloody tyrant and a homicide; One rais'd in blood, and one in blood establish'd; One that made means to come by what he hath, and slaughtered those that were the means to help him; A base foul stone, made precious by the foil of England's chair, where he is falsely set."

On my way home, I ran into two dudes, laughing and wandering around downtown, looking for bars. They were from Texas and Tennessee. I asked what they were doing in Seattle and they got solemn. "They sent us to Fort Lewis. I think we're going to Iraq," one said. For a few seconds, we looked at each other, nodding silently.