Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Seize the King
La Jolla Playhouse
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Voyeurs de Venus


Jesse Perez
Photo by Jim Carmody
Fascination with England's King Richard III has continued ever since Shakespeare made him one of the theatre's favorite villains. A years-long project was launched to find where Richard's remains had been buried near where he died, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Revisionist scholarship claimed that Richard was not the villain that Shakespeare made him out to be. When the remains had been identified and were re-buried, lines hours long formed to pass the coffin in Leicester Cathedral. And all of that fuss occurred in 2015.

So, it makes sense that playwright Will Power and director Jaime Castañeda would be drawn to this mythical figure and want to structure a contemporary tale around him. Turns out that the tale is a lot like the Shakespeare version, updated to a diverse and dystopian society. The results of the updating, La Jolla Playhouse's Seize the King, are mixed.

On the one hand, best as I could tell, the storyline follows the Shakespeare version, albeit reduced to a relatively small number of characters, a few of whom are not in Shakespeare's original. Richard (Jesse Perez) finds himself in a power struggle following the death of Henry VI. Queen Woodville (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) controls access to her son Edward (Jenapher Zheng), who has been named king but is too young to assume the throne. With the help of Lord Buckingham (Julian Parker), Richard schemes against the Queen and her ally, Lord Hastings (Luis Vega), to seize control over Edward (who is then assassinated), woo and marry Anne Neville (Ms. Zheng), arrange to have himself declared king, and then head into battle against forces that have arisen to resist him.

There is a lot of the Shakespeare version that is left out, but Mr. Power takes on the challenge of writing in Shakespeare's iambic pentameter while still making the language comprehensible to contemporary audiences. He succeeds, but at a cost: Richard loses his charm and becomes a charismatic schemer who bulldozes his opposition (until, of course, they manage to overcome him).

It's a glum tale, and it falls upon Mr. Castañeda, his actors, and his creative team to liven it up. They do their best to do so.

The technical elements succeed quite well. The Potiker Theatre can be configured in various ways, and for this production, Mr. Castañeda has put the audience on four sides, which gets everyone close to the action. Scenic designer Lauren Helpern has built the main playing space over what amounts to a pit. Characters come and go from the pit area, but also from all sides of the stage. Using Tyler Micoleau's stark lighting design, effects are created on the main playing space and below (the climactic battle takes place below, with lights prompting the audience to imagine what is going on). Emilio Sosa's costumes range from stylish to grunge, mostly dark but with contrasts (for the characters that Ms. Zheng portrays). Mikhail Fiksel's sound design combines with the onstage drumming of Richard Sellers to create urgency and forward movement when the text threatens to bog down.

As the central character, Mr. Perez connives and postures, even playing his own boxing ring referee at one point. Ms. Ekulona wears the most stylish costumes and the haughtiest manner. Mr. Parker nicely plays a good man who is drawn into a fight he'd rather not have. Mr. Vega's plotting helps the Queen to overcome her haughtier. Ms. Zheng plays the two characters with higher-pitched voices, nicely transitioning from one to the other.

Despite the powerful production, at 90 minutes with no intermission, the world premiere of Seize the King is a lot to take in at one sitting.

Seize the King, through September 16, 2018, on the campus of the University of California San Diego, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla CA. Performs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm; and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets may be purchased by calling 858-550-1010, or by visiting lajollaplayhouse.org.


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