This production of Richard III marked important milestones for the innovative Judith Shakespeare Company: The play completed Shakespeare's history cycle and, as the 19th production, it also marked the halfway point in the canon for this Company. JSC has also met its ambitious goal of gender-blind casting, featuring Gail Cronauer as the murderous, crook-backed Richard, and talented gender-bender performances by numerous members of the cast. Inversions were key as director Joanne Zipay reinvented Shakespeare's evil warring Roses as an urban gang battle involving plenty of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Composer/guitarist Mike Clemente provided a score that punctuated the narrative and wove classical riffs amid the metal. Snarling rocker-style at the audience, Clemente often played the chorus as he performed the music.
The production values and program notes simplified the complex intrigues of the warring Lancasters and Yorks, so the audience could focus on the play's revelations of evil. Cronauer's eye-popping characterization, outfitted first in a gang leader's black leather jacket and a frightening single red glove, conveyed Richard's greedy black heart with vigor. The company's gender reversals added additional poignance to the hopelessness of that world. There was, finally, no one to root for-not even the excellently portrayed Young Richard, Duke of York (Emma Devine-Warman) nor the aloof Stanley waiting for his moment (Bruce Barton). Although they engaged in less abuse than the other royals, they were not spared the pit of evil.
Zipay succeeded in translating a historical world into contemporary terms. (Some questions went unanswered -- where did they score all the drugs? Why didn't anyone overdose?) The production was generally engaging, smart, and well-received. A few early, static scenes of courtly standing gave way to highly theatrical movement and metaphoric use of the set. Gender-bending was especially well-accomplished by Zack Calhoun as Lady Anne, whose makeup deserved special kudos; Jovínna Chan (Dorset/Citizen 4); Lindsey Harrison (Catesby); Mary Hodges (Richmond/King Edward 4/Citizen 5); Assiatou Lea (Young Edward Prince of Wales/Citizen 1/Young Elizabeth); Vanessa Shealy (Murderer 1/Citizen 2/ Norfolk); Jane Titus (Archbishop of York/Queen Margaret); Alison White (Buckingham); and Eric Emmanuel Wilson (Jane Shore/Brakenbury/Oxford). The well-trained cast also features talented actors in conventionally gendered assignments: Laurie Bannister-Colón, Chris Cantrell, Ivanna Cullinan, David Huber, Dunaugh MacSweeney, Marcia Montané, Jan-Peter Pedross, and Raymond Wortel. The performances composed an insightful interpretation of Shakespeare's exploration of the depraved history of the relationships of Richard III.
The complexity of this production might have taxed a lesser company. In most respects, this Richard III succeeded in synthesizing Tudor and contemporary visions. Twenty-one performers--about one-third were JSC veterans--played numerous roles, with about half doubling or tripling. Dazzling costumes (Lea Umberger) in separate color schemes and styles made it easy to keep the gang royals straight. Where the costumes were complex, the set (Jason Ardizzone-West) was simple--a metal scaffolding with a few platforms; a patterned scrim that displayed graffiti or abstract evocations of intrigue or various emotional colors, and, on the highest level, a single red easy chair, the elusive, desirable throne. The set and action were complemented by outstanding light design (Colin D. Young). The numerous murders owed their precision to movement coach Elizabeth Mozer and fight director Dan O'Driscoll. Delivery of the Queen's English was mostly impeccable, and the variety of voice coaches, headed by Donna Germain, suggested again the tremendous effort expended to make the action look easy. "Shallow, changing woman" indeed!
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Copyright 2004 Deborah S. Greenhut