Richard III, Shakespeare Repertory. In light of Ian McKellen’s recent cockeyed film version of Shakespeare’s tragedy, you’d think that Shakespeare Rep’s largely traditional production would be a breath of fresh air. Alas, despite its refreshing simplicity, subtle bare-bones set, pristine Elizabethan costumes, and experienced cast, Barbara Gaines’s respectful Richard III is every bit as flawed as McKellen’s irreverent one.

Though overall the production is stiff, there are some stellar performances, such as Kevin Gudahl’s brave, naive, heartrending Clarence and Linda Kimbrough’s spry and feisty Queen Margaret. The problem is Brendan Corbalis as the title swine. With the possible exception of Iago, Richard is Shakespeare’s most depraved, complex figure, a delicious blend of self-loathing and self-satisfaction who gleefully dispatches everyone who stands in his way. Corbalis preens his way through the role, delivering his lines in a pompous, singsong cadence: rarely believable, he’s frequently more grating than frightening.

In this production Richard’s success in the most difficult scenes–when he woos Lady Anne (Kathy Santen) and asks Queen Elizabeth (Lisa Dodson) for her daughter’s hand–comes about just because Shakespeare wrote them that way, not because anything convincing emerges from these mannered, over-enunciated performances. Corbalis is truly effective only at the end, when Richard realizes that he, like Corbalis, has carelessly taken on a regal role for which he’s ill suited. We wind up pitying this vile murderer–a feeling as bizarre and removed from Shakespeare’s text as McKellen riding in a car and shouting, “My kingdom for a horse!” –Adam Langer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Roger Lewin.