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Arts & Culture

Ashland Review: Richard III

Oregon Shakespeare Festival


by Dorothy Velasco

for broadcast on KLCC  July 1, 2014

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival opened its outdoor season at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre with a riveting production of “Richard III.” Dan Donahue’s multi-layered portrayal of the complex title role is a unique gift to theatre-goers.

Richard, one of the favorite stage villains of the past 400 years, is the focus of an action-packed and thrillingly insightful play. Pitted against political foes and strong female characters, Donahue’s mesmerizing Richard is always the center of attention, the puppet master who pulls the strings to plot his way to the throne.

Born with a deformed body, he gains respect by bravely leading troops into battle as a very young man. His brilliant mind, brutal humor, and ability to appear pious, propel him to power. And what fun it is for us to see exactly what he’s doing.

Whether wooing the widow of a man he has just killed, ordering the deaths of his brother and nephews, or compelling the mayor of London and hired flunkies to call for his coronation, we are familiar with these actions but still they give us a jolt.

It’s been nine years since the Festival last performed “Richard.” Although very well acted, what remains in memory about that show is its stunning visual power, above all Richard’s coronation scene. Wearing a 25-foot train, he trips while coming down a ramp. The music stops, the entourage is horrified, then Richard drags himself upright and grimly continues.

In this year’s production directed by James Bundy the scenery and spectacle are simpler, and the major focus is on the delineation of the characters and Donahue’s mercurial interpretations of Richard’s speeches.

To aid the actors, the festival has unveiled a new sound system that for the most part works quite well, allowing us to comprehend Shakespeare without straining.

And now a little theater trivia: In the previous production Robin Goodrin Nordli played the old Queen Margaret, one of Richard’s toughest, most honest adversaries. This time she plays the much younger Queen Elizabeth, widow of King Edward. Does this mean that in the next production she’ll play one of the little nephews?

But back to business. In addition to Nordli as Elizabeth, the other exceptional roles for women are well played by Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Margaret, Judith-Marie Bergan as Richard’s unloving mother, and Kate Hurster as the hapless Lady Anne.

Richard’s closest cohort in crime is the Duke of Buckinham, played by Anthony Heald as a murdering bureaucrat, getting the job done efficiently and without fuss, the perfect balance for Richard’s histrionics.

If Donahue’s incisive portrayal were a scholarly dissertation, it could be considered the definitive work.

This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Review.

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