Playwright: William Shakespeare
At: First Folio Shakespeare Festival at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st, Oak Brook
Phone: 630-986-8067; $26
Runs through: Aug. 12
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
First Folio Shakespeare Festival's Richard III delivers lots of great acting from the ensemble, particularly a mesmerizing turn by Kevin McKillip as the fiendishly devious title character. Yet you might find yourself distracted by inconsistencies involving the design elements.
Though Chris Jensen's outdoor set design screams ye olde English, director Alison C. Vesely sees fit to throw in anachronistic props. McKillip's donning of cool sunglasses sticks out, as does a modernist sculpture on display. The 19th-century camera that the assembled House of York poses for at the top of the play also confuses.
Even more puzzling is the jagged 1980s New Wave-style black and purple throne that Richard III ascends to once he's killed off the competition. Since the throne looks like something owned by Disney villainess Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, are we supposed to see it as a larger symbolic representation of Richard III's wickedness? The occasional 1980s pop music used by sound designer David Mauer to cover scene changes also is an odd choice.
Tara Marshall Johnson's costumes are also slightly puzzling. It's like they take a stab at being Elizabethan, but look as if they've been filled out by items from each actor's wardrobe. The overall effect is of an English community from the 1890s obsessed with pre-Raphael art trying but not quite succeeding at being period authentic.
The reason I dwell on these niggling design details is that I wanted to a more lucid vision of where director Vesely was taking her Richard III. If she was going for the century-bending timelessness of Titus, Julie Taymor's 1999 film version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, then this Richard III doesn't have enough stylish anachronisms mixed throughout.
I'm also not averse to a firm updating that makes a clear statement. Richard Eyre's 1990s Richard III stage production starring Ian McKellen ( later made into a film in 1995 ) used the play as a 'what if' situation supposing England had turned fascist in the 1930s like Italy and Germany.
The lack of a consistent design and directorial vision for First Folio's Richard III just didn't work for me. It's a pity, since there was plenty of good acting on display by the likes of Nick Sandys as the power-hungry Duke of Buckingham and Lydia Berger as the distraught widowed Queen Elizabeth.
Then there is McKillip's engaging turn as Richard III. With his twisted frame and charming way with words, McKillip constantly commands your attention and gets you on his side to cheer the dastardly villain. If only the production design elements had collaborated to bolster the actors.