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Theater review: 'Richard III' at A Noise Within

October 9, 2009 |  6:45 pm

ANW 09 Richard-391 With as many stern alarums as merry measures, “Richard III” plots, betrays and murders his way around A Noise Within, where Shakespeare’s deathless study of despotic ambition opens the company’s 2009-10 season.

“The Tragedy of King Richard III,” as the program page cites it, ends the tetralogy formed by the “Henry VI” plays and is the second-longest play in the canon after “Hamlet.” Like that tragedy, its title character is central to its popularity, and he embodies this hard-working production’s mix of the artful and the ungainly.

Director Geoff Elliott correctly places the action in the early 1480s, the medieval tone enhanced by designer Darcy Scanlin’s split-level, carved-stone set. After an establishing prologue, a spotlight hits Richard (Steve Weingartner) at the rear of the house. Making his hunchbacked, clubfooted way through the audience, Weingartner conversationally delivers, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and we’re off in a treacherous whirl.

There is much to appreciate in Elliott’s determined staging, starting with the maintenance of shifting royal relationships, itself a feat. Here he gets invaluable aid from costumer Nikki Delhomme, whose lavish wardrobe keeps rank and affinity clear. The ensemble work is proficient; many in the large cast double roles and manage many scene changes, though some side-aisle entrances are as noisy as the horse that Richard will eventually demand.

Yet the reading lists toward dutiful, typified by its title character. With his shaved head and anachronistic intelligence, Weingartner’s schemer suggests that Terry O’Quinn’s “Lost” character John Locke has somehow time-shifted his way into the Plantagenet line. Weingartner has boundless energy, and his register shifts are dynamic. Yet something more sanguine than sinister accompanies Weingartner’s gambits, impressive as technique but faintly neutral in effect.

The wooing of Lady Anne (a valiant Lenne Klingaman) over the corpse of her husband, killed by Richard, owes more to Klingaman’s emotional resources than Weingartner’s seductive maneuvers. Richard’s many asides, punctuated by lighting designer Ken Booth, are confidential without quite forcing us to share his conspiratorial glee.

Company mainstays Apollo Dukakis and Mitchell Edmonds give King Edward IV and Hastings, respectively, noteworthy sonority. Susan Angelo traces Elizabeth’s trek from staunch queen to grief-stricken mother with typical finesse, while Bo Foxworth makes Clarence’s scene in the tower a highlight. Freddy Douglas is a brilliant, velvet-and-steel Richmond, Jeremy Rabb locates the contradictions in Buckingham, and local treasure Deborah Strang has a field day as the banished Margaret.

Elliott creates some interesting stage pictures: the young princes (Arlen Smith and Nicholas Mendez) playing cards upstage as Richard plans their demise, Buckingham getting the noose before our eyes, side-by-side warring tents.

Patrick Hotchkiss’ soundscape, which ranges from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem” to water drips and frightened steeds, is largely intrusive. The fight choreography by Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser is efficient without exactly thrilling.

--David C. Nichols

‘Richard III’ A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Runs in repertory; see schedule at Ends Dec. 12. Tickets $40 to $44 (818) 240-0910 Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Above: Steve Weingartner as Richard III at A Noise Within. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz