To paraphrase the great Bard, “This is the question: Is it better to have a poor production of Shakespeare than to never have had one at all?” After sitting through the opening night of Shakespeare Santa Monica’s production of Richard III, this reviewer would have to vote for “never have had one at all.”
That said, the intention of this review is not to bury the good intentions of this organization, which is in its third year, but more to ask why. Why would you allow Allen Williams (Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby) to set a foot on stage reading from his script and call it a performance? This directorial choice by Louis Scheeder violates a basic truth of theatre, which asks the audience to suspend its disbelief and enter into a world of imaginary circumstances – to join you in an intellectual and emotional experience. A script on stage clearly destroys that contract. Why would you allow a play to open which is clearly under-rehearsed and where most of the actors, when not missing or stepping on cues, are giving no more than line readings, often without vocal clarity?
Set in modern dress, with costumes ranging from business suits to “fashionable” torn jeans and gimmicky shoe skates, several performances were polished. Stefan Wolfert’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester/King Richard III, was multi-layered, capturing the pure evil delight and physical life of his character, and Traci Thomas’ Queen Margaret was one of the few cast members with a sub-textual component to her characterization as well as very interesting choices for her vocal and physical life. The rest of the cast was uniformly uneven, with performances ranging from somewhat professional to rank amateurism.
It is a noble cause to bring Shakespeare to the people, and one would hope that the company, under the artistic vision of John Farmanesh-Bocca, founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Monica, continues to grow and flourish. Hopefully, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, which are part of the repertoire, will be at a higher professional standard.
Part of Shakespeare Santa Monica’s mission statement is: “To develop an annual company, comprised of aspiring student artists and professional actors unified by their commitment to lifelong training in the classics.” Acting workshops are fabulous training grounds for study, but should not be confused with a professional production. It seems unlikely that Scheeder, founder and director of The Classical Studio at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, would present this opening night version of Richard III in any theatre in New York – from college to Equity Waiver – and incidentally, it isn’t good enough for Santa Monica either.
Richard III, through July 29, Miles Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Boulevard
7:30 p.m. Friday and Sunday/3:00 p.m. Saturday
The Taming of the Shrew, through July 29, Miles Playhouse
7:30 p.m. Saturday/3:00 p.m. Sunday
Ticket prices range from $20-$25, 18 and under free when accompanied by paying adult. Reservations at 310.270.3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.