Richard III Theatre Review - The Infamous Duke of Gloucester Seduces and Kills With Sinister Glee at A Noise Within

Richard (Steve Weingartner) expresses his spiritual "winter of discontent"

(Glendale, CA) October 3, 2009 – When it comes to theatre and film, it is not a rare experience to be charmed by the bad guy. Villains such as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector, Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview, and Heath Ledger’s The Joker all demonstrate a different facet of evil, and yet the audience cannot help but be drawn by their presence. And William Shakespeare understood this perfectly when creating one of his most memorable scoundrels, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Many esteemed actors have captured both the malignancy and the charisma of this character: Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, Al Pacino, and many others. And this can be also said for A Noise Within’s resident artist Steve Weingartner. The Bard's most notorious historical villain is very much alive and well (but, alas, this cannot be said for his victims) as RICHARD III proves to be a spectacular 2009/2010 season opener for the Glendale based theatre troupe.

The widowed Queen Margaret (Deborah Strang)curses Richard (Steve Weingartner)

This epic begins after of the War of the Roses during the early 1480s. The House of York---led by King Edward IV (a regally powerful Apollo Dukakis) and his two brothers Clarence (a sympathetic Bo Foxworth, who also gives a haunted portrayal of Tyrell) and Richard ( Weingartner)---has conquered the House of Lancaster, which was ruled by Henry VI and his son, the Prince of Wales. As Edward, his bride Elizabeth ( Susan Angelo) and everyone else enjoys the fruits of their victories, a bitter and envious Richard plans to spin a web of deceit and murder as though he were a “bottled spider.” Scarred and deformed, Richard’s eloquence is so powerful that he charms his first victims: the audience that he personally addresses. He knows very well that he will never reach his true greatness as a hero when he utters:  “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover/To entertain these fair well-spoken days,/I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” And throughout the entire play, Richard takes intense pleasure in lying, deceiving, insulting, seducing, and killing all those that stand in his way in achieving absolute power. What is frightening about this physically ugly character is he exudes a subtle form of charisma that wins those that surround him, especially the audience. We laugh at his duplicity and his side glances to us when he savors certain actions he performs. It isn’t until he is finally crowned as King Richard III that the complete darkness of his soul comes forth, especially when it comes to the murder of his two young nephews. After this act, the laughter from the audience is replaced with an unsettling, unnerving silence.

Richard (Steve Weingartner) tries to charm Queen Elizabeth (Susan Angelo)

Richard III is one of those plays where if its foundation is not exactly perfect, the production fails. That foundation lies in the casting of the Duke of Gloucester, and Steve Weingartner is brilliant in the role. From the very beginning of the play when he proclaims the famous line: “Now is the winter of our discontent,” his voice resonates and is smooth like honey with the Bard’s poetics. His eloquence possesses such fluidity and grace that it makes one forget the physical deformities, including the hump, his limping gait, and his scarred face. His chemistry with all of his fellow actors is uniformly magical. And Weingartner’s performance transforms from charming to deadly when he exposes his rage-filled bloodlust as soon as he becomes king. When armored up and ready to battle, he sports a long sword in one hand and a pole-axe in another, leaning and walking with them as though he were a malignant hermit crab attacking its prey. Weingartner emotionally and especially physically encapsulates the evil of this villain, excellently capturing the audience’s attention throughout the play.

For the rest of the cast, the acting is flawless across the board. However, there are three performances that are equal to that of Weingartner’s Richard, three portrayals of despair and loss. Lenne Klingaman’s Lady Anne is a complex symbol of fragility and fury as she mourns the loss of her husband, the Prince of Wales. Her scene with Richard (who murdered her husband) is an emotional chess match as we see the Duke seduce her, indicating he murdered the Prince, as well as anyone that stood in his way, in order to win her love. Although the chemistry between the two of them is electrifying, the crowning moment where Lady Anne falls under his spell seemed rushed where the seduction didn’t seem plausible (this was also the case, to a lesser degree, when Richard meets with Queen Elizabeth regarding marrying her surviving daughter). However, this flaw doesn’t diminish the tension and eloquence that is shown in the scene. Deborah Strang’s chilling portrayal of Queen Margaret submerges her sorrow altogether with complete rage-filled insanity. Dressed in raggedy wardrobe and earthen make-up, Strang’s Margaret is a symbol of pagan vengeance for the loss of both her husband, Henry VI, and her son. She magically appears out of the blue during key moments of the play and bellows her curses to those who wronged her, as though she were a wrathful voodoo priestess conjuring a spell. And Susan Angelo is absolutely heartbreaking as Queen Elizabeth, whose husband, brothers, and two sons are murdered by Richard. But her own misery is intensified even more towards the end of the play when she considers accepting the malignant King’s offer in marrying her own daughter off to him. With this scene, we are witness to Elizabeth being emotionally violated by this monster, and Angelo’s delicately nuanced performance proves to be both powerful and tragic.

The murdered victims haunt King Richard, (Steve Weingartner) while blessing his enemy, Richmond (Freddy Douglas)

With the exception of the aforementioned scenes regarding the seduction of Anne and Elizabeth, Geoff Elliot’s direction is skillful, never dragging at any point. The choreography of the fight scenes are flawless and the sound effects enhance the appropriate setting beautifully, although the lighting cues do need to be synched a little better, especially Richard’s personal spotlight. Overall, this premiere is a wonderful way to begin 2009/2010 season, causing much anticipation as to what the other shows in the lineup will be like.

Richard III opened October 3, 2009 and runs through December 12, 2009

A Noise Within
234 South Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204
Photos by: Craig Schwartz

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