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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review- Richard III (Frog & Peach Theatre Co.)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

In Frog and Peach’s current production of Richard III, the role of Lady Anne is double cast with that of the young Prince Edward, just as many productions of King Lear double cast the Fool and Cordelia. The double casting of those roles mark that the director understands the like sympathies in the parts, but unfortunately, director Lynnea Benson proceeded to strip both roles of their vulnerability. Similar contradicting strengths and weaknesses plague the valiant effort of this Upper West Side production.

Karen Lynn Gorney as Queen Margaret

The play follows three brothers of the Plantagenat line after they have defeated Henry VI in battle. The eldest brother, Edward IV (Greg Luterbach), is crowned—much to the dismay of Richard III (Anatol Yusef). Richard works upon his brother’s superstitions to cause strife between Edward and his other brother, the Duke of Clarence (William Laney). He likewise works on the distrust and strife between other members of the court to weasel his way to the top. Richard even oils his way into marriage with Lady Anne (Tallulah Ormsby Gore), even though he murdered her husband. The scene where he confesses his love to Anne over her dead husband’s coffin is most likely the most famous scene from the play. Anatol Yusef attacks the role with all of the obvious attributes of a skilled Shakespearean actor. His physical work on the deformed Richard was excellent and consistent. Yusef’s commanding voice spoke the language with relaxing ease. Indeed, Yusef hit every level one is expectant to see in a Richard. The only drawback to his performance is that the audience never believes his lies. Yusef indicates his deceptions, and his following asides to the audience—letting them in on his schemes—prove wasted. He had already telegraphed his intentions. The audience wonders why the others on stage fall for his machinations. Yusef’s second half was stronger than his first when he reveals a torn, unloved soul. This moment was much awaited and appreciated. Overall, Yusef is powerful and talented.

The true standout of the evening was Karen Lynn Gorney as the fallen Queen of Henry VI, Margaret. Queen Margaret is arguably the most complicated, developed, and rich female role in all of Shakespeare. She appears strongly in all three segments of Henry VI—even when Henry himself doesn’t appear until Henry VI Part II. And her fourth appearance in Shakespeare’s play is Richard III. Audiences see her develop from an ingénue to a queen, and in this play she is reduced to a cursing witch. Ms. Gorney brings humor and positive energy to Margaret. Where many actresses fail in reducing Margaret to a stock witch, Gorney soars. She relishes in seeing through Richard’s lies and predicting the deaths and war to come. Every moment she creates is remarkable and triumphant.

Likewise, excellent performances are found in other roles. Vivien Landau’s turn as The Dutchess of York (the mother of Richard and his brothers) is heartfelt. The moment where she curses her own child is performed in a tender embrace that moves the entire room. Michael R. Piazza as Buckingham (Richard’s aide in his rise) steals many of his scenes with simple clear choices that resonate well. A special kudos must also go to Topher Mikels for his rip roaring, heroic Earl of Richmond. Audiences should be rest assured they will see Mikels again, for his performance is stellar. Other good turns are given by William Laney as Clarence, Karen Culp as Elizabeth, and Gregg Lauterbach as King Edward.


Unfortunately, one of the major empathy points in the play lies with Lady Anne. Ms. Ormsby brings honest emotion to the role. But her attempts to present Anne as strong seem forced and undermine the arc of the play. In her first scene, she enters screaming and pressing her hand against her forehead. This is a gesture Ms. Ormsby repeats often. Her turn as the young prince is even more disappointing as she presents him as a pubescent brat instead of the spoiled innocent that garners sympathy. In her defense, it seemed to be a director’s choice that failed.

Topher Mikels (Richmond) & Anatol Yusef (Richard III)

While much of the acting is strong, director Lynnea Benson betrays her cast by not trusting the language or even the play itself. The play opens with crude vignettes in strobe lighting, depicting the war preceding the play. The three brothers are seen inexplicably learning to fight, battle, and then randomly rape and kill a woman. Other unwritten scenes are often forced into the play by Benson’s direction—such as the flirtations of Mistress Shore—that distract from the action at hand. What is most disappointing is that these moments are explained in the text and do not need to be shown. Benson should be reminded that although this masterpiece was written some time ago, it’s excellence still plays. Too much comedy is embued in the second half, stealing from the tragedy.

The appropriately restrained set is attributed to Kevin Allen. His minimal black-box is effective. Almost in stark contrast to the set are the costumes—attributed to Bengal. The costumes are mismatched, bizarre, and almost defy description, let alone taste. Minimalism should have been the tone, rather than the assortment of sequenced prom dresses and velvet pants that adorn the players.

Overall, a valiant presentation, Frog and Peach is sure to continue entertaining audiences and bringing Shakespeare to the Upper West Side.

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This show has ended its run on October 26, 2008

For information on future Frog & Peach shows visit www.frogandpeachtheatre.org

1 comment:

Billychic said...

I really couldn't agree more with David on so many points here. It was an enjoyable production, but it's true that people sometimes don't trust the text and try too hard to turn it into something that it doesn't necessarily have to be.

The part about the costumes was dead-on - and hilarious. I'm still laughing...no offense to the production.