Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see David's review of Big Fish
New York-based director Erica Schmidt has made a career by mixing classical theatre with new work (Debbie Does Dallas, anyone?). For Richard II, she has set the production in the medieval period of the play, coached the text (with Ursula Meyer's assistance) to a fare-thee-well, and created provocative visuals by using to advantage John Lee Beatty's armor-like set and Stephen Strawbridge's often sensuous lighting design.
The director is aided by a strong cast headed by Robert Sean Leonard as a Richard who seems not quite as bull-headed and more philosophical than the character is often played. There's not a lot of arrogance in Mr. Leonard's monarch. Rather, he is so focused on a plan for uniting Britain through military means that he misses until it's too late the jockeying that's going on behind the scenes about who will succeed him.
Which leaves a lot of room for poetry and for sharp individual portrayals. Veteran Shakespearean Charles Janasz casts enough of a spell with the famous, "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle. This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England" speech that one finds it difficult to forgive his character for dying soon thereafter. Patrick Kerr's Duke of York is just enough "interesting," accent-wise (is he doing Brooklyn or some regional British accent?), to have his character stand out, and his scenes with Lizbeth Mackay, as the Duchess of York. are models of classical acting. Likewise, Tory Kittles, as Henry Bolingbroke (the eventual King Henry IV), can succeed at playing a regal successor to Richard without having to overplay the conspirator's hand.
The only contemporary touches are provided by Sten Severson's sound design. Sometimes sharp and dissonant, the incidental music nevertheless serves both to complement the stage pictures and to provide enough contrast to make them interesting.
Ms. Schmidt adroitly keeps the action flowing in a disciplined manner from one scene to the next and makes it easy (with the aid of Andrea Lauer's costume design) for audiences to keep track of the characters and the story. She also uses to her advantage the talents of MFA students from the classical acting program The Old Globe runs with the University of San Diego.
Some of us (meaning me) miss the Globe's three-play repertory approach to the summer Shakespeare Festival. It was fun to see actors rotating through roles and to catch individual actors performing throughout the summer. But, the argument went, it was hard to find performers who could commit to a fifteen-week season: better to cast the individual shows separately. This production of Richard II illustrates the wisdom of the separate-casting approach, attracting not only Mr. Leonard but a company that is well-matched with its roles and who are able to focus on implementing an interesting and intelligent directorial vision.
Performances run Tuesday through Sunday evenings through July 15, 2017, at 8pm in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or online at www.theoldglobe.org. Evenings are cool in Balboa Park, so patrons are advised to dress warmly.
Additional cast members are: John Ahlin, Amara James Aja, Samuel Max Avishay, Nora Carroll, Renardo Charles Jr., Ajinkya Desai, Talley Beth Gale, Jake Horowitz, Daniel Ian Joeck, Lorenzo Landini, Ian Lassiter, Jose Martinez, Christina A. Okolo, James Joseph O'Neil, Suzelle Palacios, Larica Schnell, Connor Sullivan, and Samantha Sutliff.