Los Angeles Theater Review: RICHARD III (Independent Shakespeare Co. in Griffith Park)

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by Tony Frankel on July 7, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Richard III, the final play of eight of Shakespeare’s histories, has also been an ever-popular play. It offers one of the most coldblooded characters in all of literature, and is told with such compelling, exciting drama that its length can go virtually unnoticed (in Shakespeare’s canon, only Hamlet is longer). The diabolical and ruthless Richard is so extraordinarily evil that had Niccolò Machiavelli never existed, the term describing someone who aims to deceive and manipulate others for personal advantage would surely be Richardian.

Kalean Ung and David Melville in RICHARD III. Photo by Reynaldo Macias

But having seen five productions in as many years, I always find myself a bit lost in an array of characters who were so familiar to Elizabethan audiences there was no need to explain who they were. Anachronistic productions, whether in a motorcycle club or Nazi-ruled England in 1930’s, sprout up with ubiquity, but I still remain somewhat befuddled by all of the lords, dukes, earls, royalty and their offspring. Happily, director Melissa Chalsma of the Independent Shakespeare Co. has unearthed a version which was floating around for centuries, an adaptation by Colley Cibber, a 17th-century actor/manager. Now, all of the splicing on the page better elucidates the slicing on stage.

David Melville in RICHARD III. Photo by Reynaldo Macias

This Tragedy/History dramatizes the end of the horrific Wars of the Roses and the rise to power of the Tudor dynasty – namely, Henry VII. Richard, a brilliant and power-hungry lord, here played with jovial relish by David Melville, embarks on a bloody campaign to seize and keep the English crown, slicing throats and manipulating loved ones of the deceased.

David Melville (center) with April Fritz, Tatiana Louder, Lorenzo Gonzalez and Mary Goodchild. Photo by Grettel Cortes

When Richard III was written in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I sat on the throne as a Tudor. It’s possible that Shakespeare wooed those in power, as they could put an end to his livelihood. This is probably why Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III as a vile, hateful villain is in part designed to set up a glorious ascension for Henry VII at the end of the play, and Shakespeare’s version is rife with psychological complexity that goes missing here just the tiniest bit. But whatever was sacrificed is more than made up for in clarity, and the large company does a terrific job battling the elements to ensure that we hear every word.

David Melville in RICHARD III. Photo by Reynaldo Macias.

Anachronism abounds here as well. A fun gallimaufry of styles designed by Garry Lennon permeates the scene, and a rock band backs up Elizabethan poetry, but this outdoor production in Griffith Park isn’t about design really. It’s all about making Richard III diverting and lucid, and to that end, this romp succeeds enormously.

David Melville (center) as RICHARD III. Photo by Grettel Cortes

13599817_10154477910580628_5080713585766086104_nphotos by Reynaldo Macias and Grettel Cortes

Richard III
Independent Shakespeare Co.
Old Zoo in Griffith Park
Wed-Sun at 7
ends on July 24, 2016
FREE (donations gratefully accepted, naturally)
for more info, visit ISCLA

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