Review (and more): Richard III by Independent Shakespeare Company

OK, I’m late to the party on this one.

Last night, my wife Lisa and I saw part of the final weekend (yes, Wednesday is now a part of the weekend in Griffith Park, Los Angeles) of Independent Shakespeare Company’s FREE production of Richard III. If I say it was worth the price that would sound snarky, but the truth of the matter is that in the run-up to their two-production summer season, I had donated a fairly large chunk of change, and then at the end of the show last night, dropped another $20 into their donation “bucket for ducats” for good measure.

David Melville as Richard III for Independent Shakespeare Company (photo courtesy StageAndCinema.com)

And yes, the show was that good.

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways (in an abbreviated Top Five listing, as I’ve got some Macbeth-related fish to fry later in this post):

  1. David Melville makes for a hilarious Richard. There are inherently funny things this villain says in the play. I’ve seen some Richards that have tried HARD to be funny. But I can’t remember a Richard that made me laugh this hard. Melville’s timing is impeccable and his use of a fits-and-starts speaking style naturalizes and modernizes the line readings to make them even funnier. Combine that with excellent fourth-wall breaking (a staple for the ISC), and you have a killer Richard (pun totally intended).
  2. Shakespeare’s Richard as you’ve probably never seen him. Beyond Melville’s performance, there’s something else special about this production: Director Melissa Chalsma using the so-called Cibber adaptation. A seventeenth century actor, who was also a Poet Laureate of England, he made a pretty severe edit of the play, removing entire subplots (Richard had a brother named Clarence? You don’t say…Cibber certainly doesn’t), and focusing the play on Richard’s crown-grab and fall.
  3. Punk rock rocks. The play is accompanied by a punk(ish) combo off to the side of the stage. Good stuff.
  4. It’s FREE. Which is cool, but c’mon folks, dig into your pockets and donate… it may be free to see, but it isn’t free to produce.
  5. It’s outside. Los Angeles. Griffith Park. The Old Zoo. It’s a beautiful locale (in spite of the flying bugs, over which the ISC has no control).

Today is Thursday. There are only four performances left (tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Shows begin at 7, but since it’s free, it gets crowded (and you never know who you’ll see…like a college friend [now a Facebook friend] you haven’t seen in hmmm, nearly 30 years), so get there early. Blankets and low chairs only. Bring a picnic. Enjoy. You’re welcome.

And now, let’s link this bad boy to our current literary study bad boy, Macbeth

I was struck last night by the similarities between the discussion of sleep in Richard III and Macbeth, particularly in the curses of uneasy sleep for a villain, for “timorous dreams” (IV.i.89) haunting said villain. Are we supposed to make a connection between Richard’s conniving villainy and Macbeth’s brutality. Is Macbeth a distilled, humorless version of Richard? (I mean, sure, Macbeth has the “best o’ cutthroats” [III.iv.17] and “Had I three ears, I’d hear thee” [IV.i.100] laugh lines, but there’s no sense of Richard’s wit–and dare I say it–charm)

Similar, too, is the use of murderous surrogates (Richard’s henchman at least gets a name, Tyrrel).

And the visitation of ghosts.

And of course, the head of the villain delivered to the new king.

(and tying into a previous discussion: would this make Margaret the prophesying Third Witch?)

4 thoughts on “Review (and more): Richard III by Independent Shakespeare Company”

  1. Bill! Thank you so much for this write up. I’m so glad you enjoyed it–we as a company really had a lot of fun exploring the Cibber text–he was definitely a showman! We don’t always feel this way, but David and I are both very sad it’s closing! And of course–thank you for your continued financial support. It keeps the metaphorical doors open in Griffith Park!

    1. My pleasure (sincerely)…

      My wife and I have really enjoyed the productions over the past few summers (since we “discovered” the festival a few years back). We had already seen one-and-a-half productions of Richard III this spring alone (PCPA and the second half of The Death of Kings up at UCSB), so we were a little apprehensive about seeing another one. The Cibber adaptation–and the “punk rock Richard” vibe–brought us in… so glad we didn’t skip it!

      We’re a bit burned out on The Tempest, but after being rejuvenated by R3, we’ll be back next month for Prospero and his girl!

  2. Thanks for your analysis. I saw the same show (same night) that you saw. I agree completely. I have seen many, many productions of Richard III over the years. Although it is historically inaccurate, I always enjoy the sheer villainous scope of Shakespeare’s Richard. Written during the reign of the victors 100+ years after the end of a long and bloody civil war, it remains astoundingly powerful propaganda. Back in the day (Shakespeare’s day), the Historie plays were not mere entertainment, they were akin to state sponsored public education. I viewed the production last night in light of our current political election season: just look at how the Republicans paint Hillary Clinton and you get some idea of how the Tudors wished to have the last Plantagenet portrayed for posterity. I really enjoyed this adaptation and thought David Melville was fantastic.

    1. Lisa, where were you??? Can’t believe we missed you…though with the crowd, it was pretty easy, I guess.

      Totally agree with your take on the “state sponsored public education” aspect of the Histories. (of course, the Republican painting of Clinton is just one side of the coin…one so wonderfully flipped by the “make England great again” gag going into intermission!).

Comment?