At Bard on the Beach until Sept. 23
Bob Frazer is so goshdarn good-looking that it has been easy to overlook what a superb actor he is. In his early career he got the best boy-next-door roles: cute and charmingthe kind of boy you hoped your daughter would bring home.
As hes matured he has proven to be no longer just a good actor, hes a brilliant actor, and his portrayal of the disfigured, malevolent Richard III is, ironically, a thing of beauty.
With his head shaved, Frazers eyes appear to pop out of his face; they fix us with a snakelike glitter. So open is his face, we see Richards brain working. He lurches around the stage on two metal crutches, dragging his feet. Its painful to watch and when, as on several occasions, his crutches are swept away from him, Frazer falls in apparent agony. The image is of a huge poisonous spider spinning lies and villainous plots. His is a Richard III that fascinates and terrifies.
Born prematurely and rudely stampd, Richard has been denied an ordinary childhood; and as an adult, he has never enjoyed loves majesty. His mother curses the day he was conceived, saying of herself, A cockatrice hast thou hatched to the world. When he makes advances to Lady Anne, she shrieks, Thou lump of foul deformity before spitting on him. So reviled is he, its easy to see him turning into a predatory monster. He is an outsider of monumental proportions.
Richard III is an interesting play and unusual in this respect: its more a character study than a history play. Almost from the top of the play, Richard engages the audience directly in soliloquies beginning with, Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York and his admission that peace does not sit well with him. While we are somewhat interested in the succession of kings and queens, we are rapt with the violent career of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later (and briefly) Richard III. As he goes about hiring assassins to kill everyone who gets in his way, we see the almost orgasmic joy he experiences as he claws his way to sovereignty and, in his imagination, acceptance. As the throngs yell, Long live King Richard when he finally takes the crown, he bathes in a perverse delight. He has played the devil and he has won.
Pam Johnsons corrugated metal set suggests, except for the narrow slits for crossbows, a contemporary staging. Sheila Whites costumes further that anytime, anyplace feel with everything from period military uniforms to hoodies on a couple of murderous punks. Its the trend these days to deal with Shakespeare this way but, frankly, the plays themselves imply universality. We all know that the crimes of Richard III have echoes in, say, Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.
But this is a solid, interesting piece of work by director Kathryn Shaw who draws exceptional performances from an exceptional cast. Craig Erickson, often cast in villainous roles, is moving as Richards brother Clarence who, in the bathtub, attempts to talk his way out of being murdered by two of his brothers thugs. The always-wonderful Scott Bellis has the role of Buckingham who throws his lot in with Richard only to be betrayed by him. Nicola Lipman and Linda Quibell make fine work of Richards mother and Margaret, widow of Henry VI. Jillian Fargey is strong and persuasive as Queen Elizabeth, soon to be the widow of Edward IV, another of Richards doomed brothers. And Melissa Dionisio makes a lovely Bard debut in the role of Lady Anne.
Shakespeare offers an unparalleled perspective on evil in Richard III, but its Bob Frazers energy and magnetism that propel the play right through to the end. Its a riveting performance and a career best. No more Mr. Cute Guy.