Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Festival presents a new "Richard III"

Cleveland Press July 27, 1972

What has been billed as a different interpretation of Shakespeare's "Richard III" opened last night at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.

It was to be different in that Richard was to be less a deformed, crippled monster and more of an exciting, fascinating man.

THE CHIEF DIFFERENCE in the play as presented last night is purely cosmetic. Rather than a man with a severe hump, a rigid arm, & foot that drags, Richard is a man with a slight deformity in one arm.

If Shakespeare wrote a myth to please the current royal establishment (as part of the argument for a different "Richard III" goes) then the myth remains in this Festival production.

Villainous or not there was never anything about the character that was not fascinating. Granted it is often a horrifying sort of fascination and perhaps director Lawrence Carra's presentation dilutes the physical horror.

But since the play has not been changed, since the bloody deeds all remain and since Richard still confesses them to us in those eloquent asides, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, remains the complex villain he has always been.

DAVID LITTLE PLAYS him with eloquence and wit and with a minimum of scenery chewing. Though the part is almost foolproof, Little has not coasted. He plays it with intelligence, particularly in his scorn of those he dupes -- of women so easily charmed, of men so greedy as to commit any evil deed.

I didn't know until last night that "Richard III" is dominated by a female character. The character is the Duchess of York and she dominates matters because of her portrayal by Susan Willis. This is a regal woman but one capable of emotion. There is venom present but it is not splashed about the stage, only administered in proper but deadly doses.

Dimitra Arliss is a stately but womanly Elizabeth, John Milligan a sturdy Buckingham and Bruce Gray a dashing Richmond.

The tremendous cast demands of "Richard III" points up a problem apparent but not quite so obvious in other Festival productions and that is a lack of bench strength in the company.

It isn't just the double casting which is frequently done and which has been done here with some of the better cast members. It is in (the many bit parts, the crowds, the soldiers. Such roles are unimportant until awkwardly done and then they become distracting. They were more distracting than usual last night.

And as a parallel to this the excellence and care in costuming often did not extend as deeply into the company as it should have.

ON THE WHOLE this is a vigorous production, one that starts off well, slowing down a little in the middle of the first act and then picks up speed which it continues into the second act.

This "Richard III" may not offer us quite the crippled villain of past productions. He is a vigorous villain instead, but no less evil and cunning.