Only the Sun Shines on This 'Richard III'

Legions of actors have played the villainous Richard III. But probably few have enjoyed the same solar radiance as Milan Dragicevich in Theatricum Botanicum's new version of the Shakespearean history.

When Dragicevich's Richard shouts, "Shine out, fair sun!," the Topanga sun obliges--at least on a recent hot afternoon at the open-air Botanicum, nestled in a mountain ravine. Given a text loaded with puns on son and sun , the setting seems particularly apt.

Little else in director Ellen Geer's straightforward mounting seems quite so brilliant. This "Richard III" cries out for an imaginative interpretation that might breathe new life into an Elizabethan parable of reckless ambition and regicide. Yet Geer and company seem content with a bland, visually unexciting approach. Serviceable as it is, this production could have been a secondary offering at any small regional Shakespeare festival.

Dragicevich plays Richard, the consummate climber, as the foul monster of Tudor lore. Hunchbacked and disfigured, he walks with a sidelong shuffle and peppers his speech with tinny insinuation. It is an intense performance, to be sure, but also a predictable one, as are supporting turns from George McDaniel as the ill-fated Duke of Clarence, Melora Marshall as an upright Queen Elizabeth and Earnestine Phillips as a banshee-like Margaret of Anjou.

George Periera's costumes, which recall the Tudor finery captured by painter Hans Holbein, lend some authenticity but look mighty uncomfortable considering the climate.

* "Richard III," Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. June 18 and 25, 3 p.m. Then Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Sept . 17. $12.50. (310) 455-3723. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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