Richard III is No. 1

NSF’s Richard III is witty, hilarious and marvelously acted

Stephen Aguera as Richard III.

Stephen Aguera as Richard III.

Rated 5.0

Being a theater reviewer is a thankless job, but every once in a while, I see a play that makes the late hours, long drives and bad pay (not to mention cranky letters to the editor) worthwhile. Nevada Shakespeare Festival’s production of Richard III is one of those plays; in fact, it may be the best one I’ve seen in Northern Nevada thus far.

Both Shakespeare buffs and casual theatergoers should love this wacky interpretation of the classic bloody play. Director Jeanmarie Simpson has turned Richard III into a cartoon, and like most cartoons, the reality of violence is masked with funny noises, gaudy colors and zany musical dance numbers. Physical comedy abounds, as violent battles are played out as bitchy slap fights and vigorous spankings reminiscent of Monty Python.

Stephen Aguera is delightfully wicked as the title character, wearing a snazzy business suit and making the audience a co-conspirator in his evil little schemes. Anyone who’s ever wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch the stupid Road Runner will root for Aguera as he outwits, outplays and outlasts the good guys for the majority of the play. I enjoyed every moment he was on stage.

Cameron Crain portrays five characters in the play, switching from character to character as quickly as it takes him to don a different jacket or hat. (Because of the number of characters he plays, Crain also holds the distinction of being murdered three times.) I especially liked his version of Lord Hastings; with a scrunched-up face, cigar and denim jacket, he almost becomes a different person, like a young Clint Eastwood or James Dean.

Stephanie Richardson plays only two characters, but she milks them for all they’re worth. As the fickle Lady Anne, who marries Richard for money and prestige after he kills her husband and her father-in-law, Richardson bounces between high-pitched wailing and giggly preening. As Richard’s mother, with a tangled nest of yarn atop her head, her cackling and lamenting provides a perfect counterpoint to Laurie Schon Goodwin’s dignified Queen Elizabeth. (Goodwin, I just learned, has had to drop out of the play because of illness, but the director will fill in for future performances.)

Roderick Dexter spends a short time on stage as the ailing monarch Edward IV, but he really shines as the very military Duke of Buckingham and Brakenbury, a composite of several characters and general groveling minion. These last two characters are such opposites that it is fascinating to watch Dexter morph from one to the other, even down to the details of body language and posture.

Melissa Slayden also plays a composite character, described in the program as "all of Richard’s evil, murdering henchmen, several messengers and a citizen rolled into one twisted package." Twisted is an understatement. With her hair in braided pigtails, wearing a schoolgirl’s dress and licking an oversized lollipop, Slayden is the definition of creepy. Other brilliant touches include a frightening recording of little kids singing "Ring Around the Rosey" and, as always, NSF’s amazing ability to effectively use every inch of their small performance area. And if you don’t laugh during the occasional interpretive dance segments—including some impressive breakdancing by Crain—you must be a very, very cranky person, and I’ll be waiting eagerly for your next letter to the editor.