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Strong Production Brings Recognition to 'Richard II' : Well-cast roles propel the action in the Bard's infrequently performed play.


A film version of Shakespeare's popular "Richard III," starring Ian McKellan, is playing at movie theaters across the country, but it's considerably more difficult to find a version of the less frequently performed "Richard II."

Until now, that is--though a trip to the outskirts of Moorpark is necessary.

The California Shakespeare Company, the only group in Ventura County to regularly plumb the Bard's lesser-known works, is producing the play, under the direction of William Fisher.

As portrayed by Shakespeare, Richard II wasn't much of a king: vain (two scenes are played with him looking into a mirror when he should be paying more attention to what's going on around him), indecisive and too susceptible to the suggestions of whomever flattered him the most. Richard shows mercy to his enemies, and steals property from friends. By the time the play's over, there's a new king.

Despite its many displays of using and usurping power, "Richard II" is not one of Shakespeare's more action-packed dramas, though Fisher has trimmed the script to a swiftly moving 2 1/2 hours. Another characteristic of the play is that it is written completely in verse, which can be distracting.

On the other hand, the power shifts are often fascinating, and while "Richard II" is far from Shakespeare's funniest play, there are some very humorous scenes scattered among the politics.

Kelly Vincent, a fine young actor, gives King Richard an interesting spin: Throughout much of the play, he seems bewildered by all that's going on around him, when not simply oblivious to it.

Don Schlossman plays Richard's far more serious and solid cousin, Bolingbroke, whose rise from unscrupulous schemer to the throne (as Henry IV) parallels Richard's fall from king to imprisonment in the Tower of London to death at the hands of someone who--mistakenly--thinks he's pleasing Bolingbroke.

Ronald Rezac makes a strong impression during his relatively brief time onstage as Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt is an advisor whom Richard--his nephew--unfortunately ignores. And when Gaunt dies (of an illness, nothing sinister), Richard confiscates his wealth, forcing rightful heir Bolingbroke to retaliate and the other nobles to fear for their own estates. This is not the sort of situation that guarantees a long reign for the incumbent.

Also notable among the large cast are Michael Jordan as Bolingbroke's brother, the Duke of York; Aubrey Loots as York's treacherous son; Sharon Dasho as Queen Isabel; Jeff Wallach as the Bishop of Carlisle; Alan Robb as Thomas Mobray (exiled for life from England, Mobray whimpers that he's too old, at 40, to learn a new language); Glenn Alan Gardner as the ambitious, murderous Sir Pierce of Exton; and Robert Cabe as the gardener.

* "Richard II" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through March 3 at the California Shakespeare Company, 6685 Princeton Ave. (in the Varsity Park Plaza), Moorpark. General admission for all performances is $14; seniors and students, $12. For reservations (highly recommended) or further information, call 498-3354 or 373-9243.

Warm Bodies Needed: Artistic director Gary Poirot's reorganized Buenaventura Theatre Group meets at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Elks' Lodge, on the corner of Ash and Main streets in Ventura. Performers, technicians and anyone else who wishes to participate in the group--whose first productions will be musicals revues--are invited to attend. For further information, call Poirot or Cathleen McCarthy at 648-6160.

Casting Call: Moorpark Melodrama is auditioning singers and old-time celebrity impersonators to appear on its "Hollywood Vaudeville Express," a train ride with entertainment to be held alternate Saturday evenings between March 16 and May 25. There will be some pay for performers. Auditions will be held Sunday from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Melodrama's theater, 45 E. High St. in Moorpark. Bring your own sheet music; an accompanist will be provided. For information, call Linda Bredemann at 529-1212.

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