Over the past weekend, I.V. Arts and Shakespeare in the Park collaborated to put on Richard the Scourge, a play they described as “a comedic retelling of Richard III in the wild, wild, west in the Commedia dell’Arte style.” “Comedic” seems like an exaggeration because this play felt more like an ongoing attempt at comedy that consistently failed.
For those who are unfamiliar with Richard III, it is one of the many dramatic Shakespearean plays about a bloodthirsty, conniving prince who was willing to do anything to become a king. This play is not as iconic as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, but it is still well-praised among critics across the globe. Unfortunately, Richard the Scourge was a poor interpretation of the original Shakespearean play, cheapened by the addition of comedy.
There certainly were a few jokes that generated laughter from the audience, but most of the jokes fell flat. It was almost immediately obvious how “comedic” this play would be when it started off with a pee joke. This play relied heavily on over-the-top slapstick comedy, outdated pop culture references and lowbrow humor. At some point, there was an impromptu line-dancing scene in the middle of the play that left the audience generally quiet. The jokes were all over the place, likely because this play tried to follow the Commedia dell’arte style, a form of performance in which the actors wear masks and perform improvised skits. This style could have worked well on its own, but with the addition of a serious Shakespearean storyline in an oddly placed Western setting, it only made the play seem chaotic and disorganized.
The characters were also difficult to follow. All of the roles were based off of the ones from the original play, but it was still difficult to differentiate them, especially since most of the actors played multiple parts. The costumes were supposed to help demarcate the characters, but switching one colorful costume with another colorful costume, just to end up surrounded by many other colorful costumes, only made things even more difficult to follow. It would have helped if these characters were introduced beforehand, but many of them appeared without introduction. This story involved a lot of important roles, but it became irritating to keep track of all of them when the costume changes were not distinct enough and there were no introductions.
Many of the actors also seemed like they had some trouble with deciding which accent they wanted to speak in. There was nothing inherently wrong with the “Wild, Wild West” theme, but it seemed like it was only chosen to give the actors an excuse to speak with exaggerated Southern accents. Their exaggerated accents could have contributed to the over-the-top comedy, but they only ended up being distracting. All of the actors did their best in performing, but their inconsistent speaking styles only detracted from their performances. It didn’t help that their dialogue was an awkward combination of lines from the original play and random references to current events, which only further detracted from their acting.
There were a few redeeming qualities about this play. The title character, Richard the Scourge—played by Tyler X. Koontz—wasn’t necessarily the funniest, but he was the most memorable. Jeremy Scharf was funny as both Bloody Buck, Richard’s evil sidekick, and Mad Margaret, the widow of Richard’s rivals. Both of these actors stood out and did the best they could with the material that they had.
Richard the Scourge tried too hard to be many different things at once. It could have been a comedy, Western or even a condensed version of Richard III, but it couldn’t be all of them.