For a couple of generations at least, critics and scholars have referred to Shakespeare's Richard II as the Poet King, but in this Independent Shakespeare Company production, actor David Melville puts a new spin on the role to bring us Richard the Actor King. Compulsively histrionic, eloquent, and self-dramatizing, Melville's Richard can turn any event, however traumatic, into a scene to be played. This approach, which emphasizes comedy over tragedy, is fresh, original, and unexpected but ultimately faithful. This Richard is on to himself, with a profound sense of the world's absurdity and his own. His ironic edge and playful malice keep us laughing almost to the bitter end. Perhaps the tragic figure here is Bolingbroke (Freddy Douglas), whose career crests with his ascent to the throne and goes downhill thereafter.
Actor-director Joseph Culliton scores handsomely as John of Gaunt and the philosophic Gardener, and helms a solid and colorful production. He captures the complex political infighting and -- better than any of the six renditions I have seen -- the near-slapstick domestic comedy of the waffling Duke of York (David Nathan Schwartz), his formidable wife (a terrific Bernadette Sullivan), and their feckless son Aumerle (Erwin Tuazon). Douglas is a strong, sardonic Bolingbroke, and Gugun Deep Singh provides a bluff, stalwart Earl of Northumberland. As Richard's Queen, Andrea Gwynnel Morgan gives us a clever and spunky spitfire; Frances Uku is a passionate, grief-stricken Duchess of Gloucester.
The spectacle includes handsome modified medieval costumes, by Maro Parian; a simple, serviceable, multileveled set in violet, lavender, and cream; and beautifully executed banners, including the royal colors and Richard's White Hart standard. This company is a treasure, and the current production is exciting and revelatory in ways Shakespearean productions seldom achieve.
Presented by Independent Shakespeare Company at the South Lawn of Barnsdall Park,
4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
Repertory schedule. Jul. 12-Aug. 31.
Free (donations welcome); reservations recommended.
(818) 710-6306. www.independentshakespeare.com.