Review: Era of confusion: “Richard III” leaves audiences confused

GVL/Bo Anderson

GVL/Bo Anderson

Shelby Pendowski

The villain will haunt the audience, even after the curtain closes.

Last weekend, “Richard III” opened in the Louis Armstrong Theatre on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus with a mixture of student and professional actors.

The creative combination of actors radiated with effort; however, the play fell short.

The set throughout the play is an urban-grunge basement with an exposed iron catwalk. The focal points are a large white tarp that transforms from the beginning to the end of the play, and a large dumpster that accumulates bodies throughout the performance.

It was an attempt at modernizing the play that ultimately distracts viewers from the acting, and leaves the audience confused.

But the setting was not the source of distraction. Costume consistency lacked throughout with some characters dressed in classic Shakespearean costume, and others in 80s rock attire. And the punk-rock theme didn’t stop with costumes, but carried over into the traditional music composition, which left a bizarre, “Scooby-Doo” cartoon-themed feel to the combination.

There were some great highlights throughout, though. The shining stars were illuminated through the powerful female leads played by Brynhild Weihe, Lauren Mausd, and Heather Hartnett. The three women outshined their fellow actors, and stole the spotlight.

As Queen Elizabeth, Weihe dazzled in her role and made audiences feel her character’s pain, sadness and anger. Mausd portrayed Lady Anne, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, and stayed consistent in her role for the whole play, captivating audiences. The duo worked so well together, they looked as if they could actually be sisters in real life.

However, the true star was Hartnett. The GVSU alumna portrayed Queen Margaret, who lurked on stage throughout the entire production. Her acting experience gave her an edge while playing the insane and diabolical Queen, who after many tragedies lost her mind. The audience was mesmerized under Hartnett’s captivating spell.

Equity actor Brian Russell over-powered the lead of the show, Richard III, and although he transformed into the eerie villain, what seemed to be stage fright brought him down. His performance got better as the play neared the end, but he was often difficult to understand and he didn’t always remember that his character was a cripple.

The lead women had several supporting actors that helped boost the performance. Soren Wright, Matthew McFadden Darnell, Caleb Duckworth, Chad Rogers, and Andrew Wernette, stood out amongst the slew of cast members. Wright is an eighth-grader from Thornapple Middle School and kept up in his performance as the Duke of York.

The comic relief of the show was the murdering duo of Darnell and Wernette, who had the audience giggling with their task of killing the character Clarence.

“Richard III,” the final installment of Shakespeare’s plays about The War of Roses, is meant to be dark yet comedic, but the bored audience did not produce many laughs.

The most well-done part of the play was the ending, when Richard III and Henry Tudor are haunted, which was directed and produced very well. The actors, lighting, music and costumes seemed to be in-sync for the short five-minute period.

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