Power corrupts, but evil fascinates. Put them together and you’ve got the quintessential villain – Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” playing through September at The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Stage as part of the theater’s annual Shakespeare Festival. Lindsay Posner directs.
Richard, duke of Gloucester (Jay Whittaker), is described by the Bard as a hunchback. Here, he has a thigh-high leg brace. Despite that, he doesn’t limp so much as stride quickly and purposefully (if lopsidedly) onto the stage to announce that his inability to get love has led him to hate and to dedicate himself to the acquisition of the next best aphrodisiac – power – by any means.
We will watch as he embarks on a breathtaking Machiavellian campaign to murder the opposition, bed (or marry) the right women, lie, bully and bulldog his way to the throne as Richard III.
The list of Richard’s targets is long – some are opponents, like Lord Hastings (Robert Foxworth), but many are unsuspecting supporters, like Buckingham (Jacques C. Smith) or other royals like Queen Elizabeth’s followers Lords Grey (Sean-Michael Wilkinson), Rivers (Christopher Salazar) and Vaughan (Rachael Jenison). Some are children, like the young princes Edward (Jonas McCullen) and Richard (Aidan Hayek).
Shakespeare set this during the bloody 15th-century Wars of the Roses, but director Lindsay Posner has put it in modern dress (with wonderful costumes by Deirdre Clancy), recognizing that dictators (and those who would be dictators) haven’t changed through the centuries. The blood spilled onstage is limited to one victim – his first, brother George, duke of Clarence (Happy Anderson), in a contract murder.
It’s a complicated but still relevant story of ambition, murder and usurpation, made more accessible to contemporary audiences by the use of standard American English and Ralph Funicello’s modern set – complete with political slogans scrawled on walls – that could have been seen on TV last month. It looks and sounds all too familiar.
Richard is deformed in body and spirit, but his quick mind allows him to dissemble with the best of them. Whittaker has a lean, hungry look and an inexhaustible repertoire of expressions and moves that rivet the attention, even as we’re revolted by the actions. He even manages to talk his way into the bed of Lady Anne (Vivia Font), widow of one of his victims. (He will marry and then kill her).
Posner directs this epic of evil with a sure hand and snappy pacing that holds the attention despite its length (this is the Bard’s second longest play, after “Hamlet,” and runs about three hours).
It’s a huge, excellent cast, headed by Whittaker’s towering performance. Kudos to fight director Steve Rankin, too, especially for the terrific final battle scene in which Richmond (Dan Amboyer) kills the "poisonous bunch-backed toad."
A piece of advice: Don’t bother trying to keep track of who’s who. Just revel in this stunning portrayal of absolute evil.
“Richard III” plays in repertory with “As You Like It” and “Inherit The Wind” through Sept. 30 at The Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
For tickets, call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.