Picturing Richard

The 3rd Richard

("A Vicious Cutting of William Shakespeare's Richard III")
Nomad Theatrical Company
Directed by Grant Neale
Theater 54
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

For all the bells and whistles director/adapter/star Grant Neale attached to the Shakespearean production he (rather coyly) calls The 3rd Richard, it wasn't all that revisionist, and in spite of his subtitling it "A Vicious Cutting," the play was there in all its familiarity. Some of the directorial flourishes were quite impressive, but only occasionally did they add to the meaning of the play. More often they were striking just on their own.

The stage was set with several tall white slabs (Neale was also the scene designer), which seemed an appropriately stark background -- until one actor rubbed some of the white off, revealing part of the murals underneath. Each exposed portion was an illustration of a bit of action described -- a supine body, a hand putting a ring on another hand -- and since the image remained there, it was a constant reminder. Many times the performers were like silent-film actors, declaiming exaggeratedly. Physical business too made for striking effects -- one actor pulled an invisible string, and on the opposite end of the stage another reacted as if pulled; a slap that didn't connect still registered with a loud retort; spit aimed off stage right hit a character stage left; props fell from the rafters on cue; an actor's arm reached behind one of the slabs, and a hand appeared on the other side as if the arm was impossibly long. The actors also moved slowly around behind the slabs -- very slowly, as if lurking about.

But for all the sound and fury, this was a cold Richard, with the play subordinated to the director's vision, which, while impressive, didn't always illuminate. It was not a Richard for neophytes, and because many characters' costumes were similar and actors did double and triple duty, it could be confusing in a who-is-that-now way. But the actors displayed an admirable intensity throughout, and there were some extraordinary scenes when all the elements worked -- the murder of Clarence (Mary Coburn), the vicious "courting" of Lady Anne (Tessa Zugmeyer), and the strong appearances by Buckingham (Christopher Oden).

And if Neale's Richard was creepy, it was more for his attitude than his deformity. But when action, intention, and direction came completely into focus there was dramatic strength. He's finally made it to king and he enjoys it -- there's textual meaning when he gamely struggles to maintain his balance on a metal bar that serves as throne, a bar he cannot get up onto by himself -- he has to be helped. There was palpable dread as Richard enjoyed persuading Elizabeth (Hillary Louise Edmunds) to give him her daughter as queen. Richard was pictured on the murals as a wild boar, just as the text describes him.

But by the end it all came back to those slabs, now covered with pictures of duplicity and devastation. And the stage was covered with the white powder that had been rubbed off. If the direction wasn't entirely successful, its inventiveness was interesting. The technical credits were impressive, with subtle lighting (by Evan Ritter) and good sound effects (design by Elizabeth Rainey) -- swords and slaps and music, although the use of "Rhapsody in Blue" seemed odd.

Also with Colleen De Salvo, Darryl Solomon, Charles Rosenblum, Margaret Catov, Ryan Victor Pearce.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler