Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Richard III, Ohio Shakespeare Festival

(The multi-tasking Terry Burgler)

It’s always fascinating to see how a director and actor approach the title role in Richard III. This bent and misshapen man is so fully evil and malevolent, he can conjure interpretations that echo Nazi Germany (such as in the Royal National Theatre’s production starring Ian McKellen that then became a movie). Under artistic director Terry Burgler, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival doesn’t fiddle with such contemporary spins and pirouettes, and that hewing to original time and place is to their credit.

But in this production, Terry Burgler is also the person playing Richard. And as an accomplished actor, he should be picketing outside Stan Hywet Hall, protesting the fact that his director never once watched him do a single scene in rehearsal. Perhaps this demonstration would shake the resolve of that immensely talented director, Terry Burgler.

While many productions opt for making Richard a gleeful and even charming psychopath, Burgler swings the other way with Richard underplaying many of his speeches and scenes. It is rather bold choice to portray the banality of evil, if that is his aim. Of course, this choice runs the risk of simply delineating the banality of banality. The second level of banality might have been eliminated had Burgler not been directing himself.

That said, Burgler the actor adopts a fine, dark look for his menacing character, with his shoulder hump firmly in place. And some scenes register with chilling overtones, as when Richard verbally seduces Lady Anne (played by Tess Burgler, Terry’s daughter, the pair thus executing a Freudian/thespian double back flip with aplomb).

But Burgler’s casual and at times off-handed demeanor blunts the edge of other scenes, while much of the violence is also soft-pedaled. As a result, this Richard doesn’t slice so much as shove and buffet—resulting in a kinder, gentler rendition that is interesting but not compelling.

Excellent performances are turned in by several individuals in the large cast. Anne McEvoy brings her riveting stage presence to the role of Margaret, who has been pushed aside following the death of her husband. If you ever want to cuss somebody out but don’t want to do it yourself, definitely give Ms. McEvoy a call.

Derrick Winger seems entirely at ease as Hastings, which makes his later fate ,when he joins the pile of off-stage bodies, even more affecting. Robert Hawkes is deliciously craven as Buckingham, Richard’s doomed flack, conning the populace and the court as his boss machetes his way to power. And Lara Knox simmers and snarls with style as Queen Elizabeth.

By making Richard defiantly non-charismatic, Burgler the director takes a big chance. Unfortunately, Burgler the actor does not have the wise counsel of a director who is observing these dynamics during rehearsals and then suggesting different and possibly more rewarding attacks on this juicy material.

Richard III

Through August 14, produced by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, 714 North Portage Path, Akron, 330-673-8761

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