A charismatic leader devoid of principles seduces his way to ultimate power only to self-destruct in a cataclysm of futility. We can only hope, right? But this is not a fantasy about contemporary America; it’s the plot of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which received a fine and fascinating staging at Westmont College on Friday, March 10, courtesy of Lit Moon Theatre Company’s women’s auxiliary division. With uncanny prescience in regard to such recent developments as the gigantic women’s marches in Washington and elsewhere, John Blondell has devised a Richard III that skewers masculine pretensions by offering four women the opportunity to inhabit the halls of power and expose the machinations of the men who run things.
Marie Ponce-DeLeon stars as the irrepressible Richard of Gloucester, and she brings a winning combination of delicate, unforced line readings and a vivid, original physical characterization to the role that allow her to easily sidestep the common scenery-chewing pitfalls of playing Shakespeare’s first great villain. The rest of the roles are doubled and tripled by Victoria Finlayson, Paige Tautz, and Nina Sallinen. Blondell has adapted the script in his inimitable fashion, turning the Bard’s original five-act drama into “five one-acts about Richard III.”
To understand the impact of the director’s huge cuts and radical blocking, it’s useful to look at one instance of this process of “free extraction.” In place of the extraordinary scene in Act 1 of Shakespeare’s original, depicting the wooing of Anne (Victoria Finlayson), this version presents a kind of pantomime in which Anne begins by extending a bold middle finger at the man who has already done her so much harm. As the silent sequence goes on, Richard turns her around and slowly folds that finger down to be replaced by the one next to it, on which he places a ring. As performed by Finlayson and Ponce-DeLeon, it’s a tour de force of sophisticated implication and makes a delightful substitute for the missing lines.
In the end, it is Richard’s callous disregard for the truth that sticks in one’s mind even more than his treachery. For a leader to proclaim, as Richard does, that “I clothe my naked villainy / With odd old ends, stol’n forth of Holy Writ, / And seem a saint when most I play the devil” comes a good deal too close for comfort in these perilous times.