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THEATER REVIEW

Bard's dark villain with a lighter touch

July 28, 2005|Steven Oxman | Special to The Times

"RICHARD III" would not likely be the first of Shakespeare's plays to come to mind when picturing a pleasant sunset following a picnic dinner and a bottle of Chardonnay. The selections for theater alfresco usually tend toward the jovial, with the outdoor setting nicely accompanied by one of the Bard's light romps celebrating the triumph of true love. Another "Midsummer Night's Dream," anyone?

On the contrary, "Richard III," the character study of a villainous hunchback with his eyes on England's throne, involves murder most foul, and much of it. It is most often produced with plenty of dark shadows for the protagonist to walk out of as he regales the audience with one famed soliloquy after another. Not exactly light, sugary stuff.

Usually, that is.

In the Independent Shakespeare Company production, performed at Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood, this contemplation on evil really does feel frothy. Lorenzo Gonzalez's Richard expresses such glorious glee in his evil deeds that you root to see him succeed and take a surprising joy in his bloody ascent.

It's an entertaining approach, and Gonzalez -- with a pretty terrific cackle -- proves a zesty companion for what is, at three full hours, a long show.

Of course, though grasping the audience's sympathies on behalf of Richard is an effective strategy from director Melissa Chalsma, there are sacrifices to treating the story with this light a touch. When the production means to be earnest, it has trouble. In one important scene, for example, Queen Margaret (Maude Bonnani) foretells the murders to come, but the sense of genuine danger feels at once overplayed with melodrama and washed out. Even at the end, scenes of grief feel ineffective.

The result is an engaging but somewhat shallow "Richard III." It's bookended by a couple of rich and well-played wooing scenes, in which Richard pursues the allegiance of his victims' widows with honesty, threats and charm. But the production flattens in the middle during the sequences involving political intrigue.

The 12 supporting players, who play multiple roles, are likable, and it's awfully easy to be drawn in by the company's bare-bones approach to Shakespeare, valuing accessibility above all. If the company can make "Richard III" feel almost family friendly, then it certainly has a lot to offer.

*

'Richard III'

Where: Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m. in repertory, Aug. 5, 6, 20, 25 and 28.

Ends: Aug. 28

Price: Free

Info: (818) 710-6306, www.independentshakespeare.com

Running time: 3 hours

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