Posted by: operatheaterink | September 26, 2011

Review: ‘Richard III,’ Theatricum Botanicum, Sept. 26, 2011

Review: ‘Richard III,’ Theatricum Botanicum, Sept. 26, 2011

Chad Jason Scheppner and Abby Craden. Photo: Ian Flanders

Standouts and a Solid Ensemble Make ‘Richard III’ at the Theatricum Admirable.


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

What is good about attending one of the latter performances of a play with a long run is that the kinks have hopefully been eliminated. And what is even better about going to the last performance of a run is that the actors savor every delectable minute of it.

I attended the last performance of the “Richard III” at the Theatricum Botanicum on Sept. 24. Well, sort of. In reality, the show closes Oct. 2 with Melora Marshall double cast as Richard III. I personally saw Chad Jason Scheppner in the role. It was his final performance, and he was deliciously evil.

I walked out of a performance of “Richard III” a few years ago. It may or may not have been the fault of the actors. Sometimes the directors just get carried away, especially with a character like Richard, who is so lasciviously villainous, deformed, and Machiavellian that a director could just go too far.

Director Ellen Geer has taken the straight road on this one — with Scheppner, that is. He wore a leg brace, was traditionally humpbacked, and he had long dark hair and pale ashen skin so that he looked like a vampire. He played Richard conventionally, brought forth real moves and emotions that revealed his charm mixed with villainy, and we knew it was all a charade.

Responsible for the murder of Henry VI and the late king’s son, Prince Edward, his goal was to ascend the throne no matter who got in his way. When the feeble King Edward IV died, he accomplished his end. Of course, more murder and thievery were required to accomplish that feat. His former ally, the Duke of Buckingham, rebelled and joined forces with Henry, the Earl of Richmond, to dethrone him. His forces were defeated at Bosworth Field; his horse was shot from under him, thus inciting the words, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”; and he was slain by the hand of Richmond.

This production was a bit uneven in that some actors were simply reliable while others were standouts, thus making the show seem a cross between professional and nonprofessional. Yet every actor, whether a fledgling newcomer or a veteran pro, carried out the director’s actions with proficiency. I will discuss the actors in order of my reverence.

My three favorites were William Dennis Hunt as King Edward IV, Abby Craden as Queen Elizabeth, and Melora Marshall as the Duchess of York.

Although Hunt’s role was brief, it was by far the most nuanced. His language was articulate, and we could see the character of Edward in every bone of his feeble body. Another words, the language came from the outside in, and the character came from the inside out.

I have to discuss Abby Craden’s portrayal as it compares with two other performances.

Although Willow Geer as Lady Anne exuded energy, emotion, enthusiasm and verve as she attempted to fend off the advances of Richard in the Act 1 wooing scene, her emotions impacted her vocal status so that her sound was at times high-pitched, shrill and strident.

Throughout the play, Scheppner was consistently effective, but something more was still wanting, especially during the monologue sequences beginning with “Now is the winter of our discontent.” He hooked us, but not completely. He was committed, but not entirely.

These two actors – Willow Geer and Scheppner — did not exhibit “complete” performances. Hunt, Craden and Marshall did. The easiest actor for me to illustrate this point with might be Craden. Her voice was mellow like a mezzo soprano on the operatic stage. Her emotional power and vocality came from the core of her being so that she was like a singer whose sound was supported. The elements were connected. Her substance was in her trunk which was her foundation, and her voice and emotions branched out from there. Although different, Geer and Scheppner lacked at times the foundational core, backbone and spine inherent in their characters. The elements were not always connected although Scheppner’s performance crescendoed when confronting Elizabeth, and the beautifully choreographed final fight scene left him the central character of the play after all. He was a reliable and effective Richard, just capable of more.

And as previously mentioned, Melora Marshall was one of my three favorites because of her securely centered strength which enabled her to create a character with vibrant dynamism.

Many in the large cast deserve compliments. I am simply focusing on the characters that either spoke to me or didn’t.

Dylan Booth Vigus, the guilt-ridden executioner, showed vocal promise with emotionality. Tim Halligan (Lord Hastings), Christopher W. Jones (the Duke of Buckingham), and Andrew Ravani (the Earl of Richmond) were assets. And Earnestine Phillips (Queen Margaret) contributed a booming voice with presence which created a character variation that broadened the proceedings.

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was the lack of sets and the abundance of beautifully crafted costumes by Perry Bret Ash. The simplicity of the wooden set with just the basic Theatricum framework and lush costumes enabled the audience to focus on the acting while still being drawn into the story and time period. The setting in the middle of the Topanga Canyon woods was sheer magic, especially in the daylight with just a tinge of lighting when the sun dwindled — the perfect setting for an afternoon of Shakespeare.

Although this production was uneven with some actors shining and others merely reciting, the standouts were marvelous, and the overall direction and blocking were commendable. Most importantly, this “Richard III” was an example of solid Classical theatre in Los Angeles in a truly Shakespearean setting. We can take pride in knowing that the Theatricum exists and that children and adults can spend summer afternoons and evenings enriching their knowledge and senses while taking in the sounds and images of nature.

The Theatricum Botanicum at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, Calif. 90290.
(310) 455-2322; Box Office, (310) 455-3723.
Director: Ellen Geer
Fight Choreographer: Aaron Hendry
Stage Manager: Elna Kordijan
Assistant Director: Joan Cummins
Costume Designer: Perry Bret Ash
Sound Designer: Ian Flanders
Lighting Designer: Zachary Moore

Critic’s Note: For some wonderful portrayals, view Laurence Olivier as Richard III on YouTube and Zoё Wanamaker in a separate entry as Lady Anne. Also, see Claire Bloom as Lady Anne with Olivier. His Richard is currently available on DVD.