Riverside Theatre’s Richard III delivers powerful punch

BY ELLEN HARRIS | JUNE 22, 2009 7:21 AM

The June 19 stormy weather chased off some of the opening-night patrons, but Richard III, the second show of the Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival, went on as planned, with the full cast taking the stage at 8 p.m. in the humidity of Lower City Park. Unfortunately, there were far more insects than audience members buzzing in the seats. Though Richard III isn’t as well known as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it still deserves more than a half-filled house.

Richard III tells the story of a power-hungry king-wannabe who kills everyone in his path to get to the throne. Festival headliner Dennis Fox led the cast in the title role, triumphing onstage as the grasping Richard never did in life. Fully committing to the crippled physique of his character, Fox invited the audience into the world of his dastardly deeds during the plays many asides. His eloquence and charisma propelled the plot forward, despite a few minor line flubs (likely due to opening-night jitters — even the most seasoned actors are susceptible).

Richard III’s cast is predominantly male, and the only solid female performance of the night was that of Saren Nofs-Snyder portraying the displaced and disillusioned Queen Margaret. Nofs-Snyder (who plays Titania and Hippolyta in Midsummer) owned the stage from the second she entered, whether lurking in the shadows of the balcony or standing front and center with arms flung wide.

Michael Perez trod the boards in a wonderful turn as Catesby, one of Richard’s nefarious henchmen. Perez’s evil character was full of dark wisdom, which was never more apparent than when he laughed wryly, saying, “’Tis a vile thing to die, my gracious lord, when men are unprepared and look not for it.”

While perfectly charming as Midsummer’s beautiful Hermia, Dawn Michelle Mancarella was too shrill with her character of Queen Elizabeth. Though a thoroughly talented actress, Mancarella seemed more comfortable in her age-appropriate role in Midsummer.

Unsurprisingly, the festival’s interns delivered the weakest performances of the evening, with the exception of Steven Perkins as Richard’s loyal muscle, Ratcliffe. Still, their acting abilities may beef up prior to closing weekend, July 12.

Few moments stand out in memory as clearly as the murder of Richard’s brother, Clarence (Steve Cardamone). Executed with supreme grace, the violent assassination tore across the balcony, down a ladder, and through the door to the backstage area. Cardomone and the killer (Jordan Laroya) evoke strong reactions from the audience with the pair’s stabbing and screaming.

The dream sequence in the play’s final act was equally chilling. When Richard lay sleeping before his dawn appointment with the man who would be England’s King Henry VII (played by talented UI alum Martin Andrews), he was visited by the vengeful, creeping ghosts of every man, woman, and child he’d killed. Fox’s Richard clawed and limped through the fog-shrouded battlefield of his mind, tortured by his wrongdoings.

Richard’s many sins were shockingly delightful in their villainy throughout the three-hour performance. Richard III may not give theater-goers the happy ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it delivered one powerful punch by the truly amazing cast of Riverside’s 2009 Shakespeare Festival.

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