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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

Video Clips, Poor Acting Thwart 'Richard III'

Much of the Little Victory production is flat and uninvolving. The indulgence of the lead actor lends little insight into the villain.

June 06, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Times political cartoonist Paul Conrad wanted to really nail his favorite reviled subject, Richard Nixon, he portrayed him as England's controversial King Richard III. Shakespeare, too, reserved some of his greatest artistic flourishes for this monarch, who was trounced into submission by the forces that brought on Queen Elizabeth.

Being a good Elizabethan, Shakespeare was intent on making Richard the personification of evil.

So Conrad's and Shakespeare's politics have produced great art. But whatever is behind director Gregory Gleidman's staging of "Richard III" at the Little Victory Theatre is neither political nor artful.

Seemingly swept along by half-baked notions of post-modernist Shakespeare productions, Gleidman's version begins with a long prologue shown on an onstage video monitor.

There's an amateurishly cobbled mix of actual contemporary war footage with video of royal press conferences and torture sessions (performed by Gleidman's actors). It's all meant to establish the bloody civil wars, which ultimately consumed Richard and brought on the triumph of the Tudors.

But it is Richard's own opening speech, arguably the greatest in theater history, that establishes everything--the combatants, the temporary peace, Richard's elaborate coup plot. From the start, this production's attempt to give a new buzz and video hipness to this astonishing play is wasted and wrong-minded.

Did we say astonishing? It is, although it would be almost impossible for a newcomer to "Richard III" to tell from this show. The acting is almost uniformly so terrible that the intense light of the play's ironic poetry is shrouded in an impenetrable fog.

The grief of Lady Anne looking at her husband Edward's murdered corpse becomes unintentionally comic in Kathleen Troost's performance. The allies-turned-enemies of Richard seem like so many mannequins in Gleidman's absurdly stiff blocking, and even Jude Gerard Prest's attempts to humanize the unlucky Buckingham are undone by misguided overacting.

Some of the play's most fascinating scenes, such as the gathering of widows of Richard's victims (Tanya Fogerty, Sylvia Little and Noel Evangelisti), become flat and totally uninvolving.

That leaves us with Matt Foyer's indulgent, self-involved interpretation of Richard--a case of an actor more interested in the sound of his own voice than drawing out fresh perspectives on this consummate villain.

The production's video device ultimately reduces Richard to just a stupid villain. How is it that Richmond (played by an uncredited actor), his opponent at the climatic battle of Bosworth Field, is able to make speeches on the TV news--coverage that under Richard's rule would have been severely censored?

Some scene changes go well, and others take as much time as the battle of Bosworth Field itself. Waiting, we have to look at Akeime Mitterlehner's truly ugly set, which Gerry Linsangan's bland lights can't improve.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "Richard III."

* WHERE: Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Ends June 16.

* HOW MUCH: $12-$15.

* CALL: (818) 841-5421.

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