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.
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):
- 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).
- 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.
- Punk rock rocks. The play is accompanied by a punk(ish) combo off to the side of the stage. Good stuff.
- 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.
- 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?)