Los Angeles Theater Review: RICHARD III (Sacred Fools)

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by Jason Rohrer on January 28, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


The joy of watching Shakespeare in performance largely depends on the ensemble’s ability to make sense of the language.  In this regard, Sacred Fools’ new Richard III succeeds, and before the intermission, it boasts the equally rare Shakespearean virtue of velocity.  But any staging of any play has responsibilities beyond diction and pace.  It also must have a point, a reason for existence besides the amusement of the cast and crew.  It’s fun to play, but you shouldn’t invite strangers to watch you have a good time.

Some directors seem to feel that putting up a revered play is enough, and relegate such details as theme and tone to the actors, designers, or whoever wants them.  This might look like a good idea in the case of Richard III, arguably the most straightforward of Elizabethan tragedies.  A jealous and spiteful protagonist murders friends, family, women, and children to gain his ends.  He winks at us in direct asides, cheering and chiding himself in a running commentary on the nature of man’s appetites and motivations.  Richard is among the great archetypes of the larger-than-life arch-villain.  But he does not choose the tenor of the presentation.  No matter what he says, a character does not dictate the way it is said.  Nor, in a sane world, does a playwright.  But if director Ben Rock has a larger concept in mind, if he means to use this text to explicate a universal truth, on opening night he most effectively communicated it to the Sacred Fools company members gathered house right, who screamed and applauded much that eluded the rest of the crowd.

Some elements of this show deserve congratulation.  The actors perform with skill, even when they seem to be in different plays.  Jennifer Christina Smith’s costumes convey a consistent sense of place; Tifanie McQueen’s simple set is flexible enough to represent at least twenty different locations.  Rock, however, does not always follow his designer’s lead to make use of the space; actors keep piling up in clusters at center stage, and when Queen Margaret makes her appearance, it’s unclear whether she is in the room, in the moat, or even onstage at all.

In keeping with the overall lack of vision, nobody has imparted a sense of proportion to the actors.  Some, in beautiful, quiet renderings (Kimberly Atkinson as Queen Elizabeth, Leon Russom as the Duke of Buckingham, Cynthia Beckert as the Duchess of York), perform at a complementary size and style, but others project to the back row of the theater across the street.  As Lady Anne, Alexis Wolfe brings all the emotion and none of the restraint the role requires; as Queen Margaret, Kathy Bell Denton’s technical command of difficult speeches is breathtaking, though she insists on indicating to the audience which of her lines is funny.  As the titular monster, Gregory Sims follows a modulated if self-congratulatory first three acts by screaming for the remainder of the evening; so does much of the rest of the cast.  The obvious excellence of these actors in search of a director merely underscores that director’s lack of interest in cadging nuance from them, or from his text.  The fault lies not in Rock’s stars, therefore, but in himself.

photos by Chris Millar

Richard III
Sacred Fools in Hollywood
scheduled to end on February 25
for tickets, visit http://www.sacredfools.org

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