And, given those fairly obvious limitations, the results are pretty impressive. Wolpe, who directs as well as playing the title role, brings a clear vision to the play. Her Richard is true to his opening monologue; he is discontented. It doesn't seem like he wants to be king for the power; instead, he's scheming for the throne to kill time. He's bored and wants to see what he can get away with. And it turns out that he can get away with quite a lot. This Richard is a master manipulator, tripping others up with his words alone. (It makes you think that, if he wasn't such an evil human being, he might well have made a pretty good king.)
With a cast ranging from students in their first production to Equity veterans, it isn't surprising that the supporting cast is, well, a bit uneven. Still, there are very few performers here who don't connect, at least a little bit, with the meaning behind the words they speak, and most performers in the larger roles are up to the challenge.
In all honesty, I've always hated the wooing of Anne. (Seriously? In her father-in-law's funeral procession? After Richard killed her husband as well? Is this woman the world's biggest idiot?) I've often seen her played as tearful and a bit mousy, as though she'd need to be in order for Richard to just steamroll over her. But when Richard is a master at overpowering others' wills, Anne can be as strong as she wants, and she'll still lose. Katrinka Wolfson gives us an Anne who is spunky, even fiery. She rejects Richard with an offended haughtiness, and when Richard offers her a knife to strike him down, he is taking a pretty big risk that she actually will. When she doesn't, Richard knows he has her (you can see the change in Wolpe's face), and it's all over long before she takes his ring. (Wolfson is also terrific when she stands beside Richard at his coronation; her eyes water and she looks as though she may be physically ill, but she gets through it, looking for all the world like a wife standing dutifully next to her Congressman husband at that press conference where he admits the sex scandal.)
But if wooing Anne presented a challenge for Richard, that's nothing compared to his attempt to convince Elizabeth to woo her daughter for him (after substantially more bodies have piled up). Linda Bisesti provides an Elizabeth who is a strong foil for Richardtheir scene is a verbal battle of wills; Elizabeth shuts Richard down at every turn, forcing Richard keep trying different tacks. It's the first time we really see Richard lose a bit of control; his voice raises in frustration and he very nearly fails. It makes the victory all the more sweet.
There is also some good work here from Jack Grigoli, as a Clarence who is resigned to his fate; Robert Shields as Richard's partner-in-crime, Buckingham; Daniella Tarankow as the one woman Richard can't manipulate, his mother; and Nathaniel Akstin-Johnson, who gives Tyrrell a delightfully evil smirk. The rest are somewhat less successful. In particular, Michael Kachingwe gives Queen Margret a soft speech style, as though she's an otherworldly spirit. It's an interesting take, but it seems more focussed on how the words sound than what they mean.
Wolpe opens the show with a short sequence in which the War of the Roses is neatly summed up, Chicago Gangland style, in about thirty seconds of gunfire and rotating kings. The set is minimal: a set of doors and an elevated platform (about two steps up from the floor). Action takes place on the platform, the floor, and an additional bit of platform elevated another step or so. The height variations are actually quite useful, as they give Wolpe's disabled Richard something difficult to navigate. The production has chosen the spider for its symbol, and while Wolpe's Richard lacks the grace of some arachnids, there is something spider-like to the way he moves around the space, before coming in for the kill.
Richard III plays at the Studio Theatre on Cal Poly Pomona Campus through October 2, 2011. For tickets and information, see http://www.class.csupomona.edu/th/oldsite/scsf.
Southern California Shakespeare Festival presents Richard III by William Shakespeare. Directed by Lisa Wolpe. Publicist Philip Sokoloff; Stage Manager Richard Anthony Gomez; Assistant Stage Manager Jade Cagalawan; House Manager Theresa Dunipace; Production Manager Marie Maslowski; Costume Designer Shakeia Revis; Asst. Costume Designer Chris Clauss; Set/Prop Designer Eric Ng; Set/Prop Assistant Andy Nguo; Set/Prop Assistant Adam Salce; Construction Crew Fabian Lopez; Sound Designer Andrew Graves; Lighting Designer Justin Castillo; Fight Consultant Julian White; Fight Choreographer Edgar Landa; Running Crew Danielle Solano.