It's "Richard III" uncensored and uncut (1,100 lines of dialogue belong to the title character alone) as Shakespeare's tragedy opens Friday at Actors Alley in Van Nuys. "The company had never done Shakespeare before--and it seemed the proper thing for a repertory company to attempt to do," said Jordan Charney, whose staging of the work marks his final production as artistic director of the theater.
"It began in our Sunday workshop, investigating how to do Shakespeare," he continued. "We started with sonnets, then went on to scenes. Everyone caught on to the needs of Shakespeare--his poetic language and the antithetical things that he's always comparing: Winter to summer, day to night. Once the actors understand those images, it makes everything very clear. Then when they say it, it doesn't sound like Latin."
The production utilizes 22 actors (in 65 parts), "so it gives a third of the company a chance to appear," Charney noted. "And it's lively stuff. That evil little guy, all those murders." A body count? "Well, he kills his brother Clarence, chops off Hastings' head. He kills the Duke of Buckingham, kills the Queen's brother and sons, kills the two children in the Tower. Then there's a big battle at the end, when Richmond finally kills him. So it really is a very bloody play."
Walter Raymond plays the title role.
BRANCHING OUT: "Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined." The Alexander Pope line sets the tone for George Furth's family comedy "Twigs," which recently opened at Theatre 40. Directing is Barth Benedict, former artistic director of the Barn Theatre in Albuquerque, N. M.
"We meet four members of the same family--three sisters and their mother--but never at the same time," said Benedict, who's opted away from the traditional staging (having one actress play all the roles) by assigning four different actresses. "The first scene, with the youngest sister, Emily, takes place in the morning. The second one, with Celia, takes place noon-ish. Dorothy's takes place around supper time. And Ma and Pa (come on) around 7-8 p.m.
"All four women are compulsive talkers," added Benedict, "and they all have psychological reasons why they talk. Extreme talkativeness can be funny or it can be tragic. Furth lets us see it from both points of view. There's a real understanding for women's conversations and women as communicators, women's need to talk. It's almost used as a tool for health. These are women reaching out to live life to the best of their abilities. We see how well they do/do not succeed."
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: A touring production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning "Into the Woods"--a musical melange of such fairy tales as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk--opened recently at the Ahmanson.
Cheered The Times' Dan Sullivan: "The comings and going are ingeniously linked; no clue is planted that doesn't pay off later. But the show can't be watched with the mind-set that prevails at ordinary musicals. We have to keep constantly on our guard."
In the Herald Examiner, Richard Stayton compared the production to earlier incarnations: "This road show version shrinks the elegant Tony Straiges forest and cottages into paper cut-outs. Gone are the numerous special effects gracing the Broadway version. The magic beans no longer sparkle . . . "
Said Tom Jacobs in the Daily News: "It's hard to say how many people will leave this delightful show fully aware of the link the authors are trying to make between 'once upon a time' and our times. Probably not many. But as Bruno Bettelheim has noted, fairy tales work on the unconscious."
From Sandra Kreiswirth in the Outlook: " 'Into the Woods' covers a lot of psychological territory. Perhaps not as biting as some of the composer's other work, it remains a show that reveals new things each time it's seen. (It is) sophisticated, sarcastic and searing . . ."
Said the Orange County Register's Jeff Rubio: "If the fairy tale theme sounds like a cute, simple idea on which to hang a musical, forget it; the show is ultimately neither. It works less as a smooth-flowing, organically satisfying musical than as a backdrop for the occasional genius that leaps out."
In Daily Variety, Tim Gray found "wit and intelligence to spare, but it lacks the one thing it needs above all: Magic. Still, it's definitely worth seeing--even a minor work by Sondheim is still a major theatrical event. It is a difficult play to love, but one that's easy to admire."
And from Jeffrey Jolson-Colburn in the Hollywood Reporter: "The play is delightful and thought-provoking, even if it doesn't have a terribly happy ending. The survivors all grew and became at peace with themselves and the others, so at least they lived sagely ever after."