by Beki Pineda

RICHARD III – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Veronica Straight-Lingo. Produced by Lost and Found Productions (presented at the John Hand Theatre, 7653 East 1st Place, Denver) through August 17. Tickets available at 303-420-8080 or lostandfoundproductions.net.

Everyone who produces Shakespeare is always looking for a new way to present his stories. Lost and Found Productions produces gender-bending versions of Shakespeare’s plays giving the actors a chance to be miscast and perform in roles in which they would normally never be cast. Thus allowing this current group of 13 talented actors to take on the bloody tale of Richard and give a slightly different spin to the story. A recent production with a female Hamlet at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival allowed the character to be female, which added a completely different relationship between her and Ophelia. No concession is made in this production for gender. Margaret Norwood playing  Richard wears short hair to play the role, the major concession to masculinity. All of the actors played the male parts as male and the female roles traditionally. And the story got told.

Richard’s promise to “snarl and bite” at the end of Shakespeare’s version of the Henry trilogy is fulfilled in his continuation of Richard’s story. His path to the throne was unlikely and fueled by his own ambition as much as by royal lineage. As the youngest son in a large royal family, his ascension to a position of power faced many difficulties. His father, brothers and cousins fought their way through the War of the Roses until, in 1461, his eldest brother was crowned Edward IV. Through the remaining battles between contingencies of the York and Lancaster clans, Richard remained loyal to his brother and reaped the financial and societal benefits from that loyalty. He displayed the strength in battle and disdain for position that earned him a reputation as cold-blooded. Marrying Anne Neville solidified his lineage and gave him additional financial resources, even though he had been instrumental in the death of her husband. It is at this point that the play picks up and we follow his two year reign, ending on the bloody fields of Bosworth. “My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse.”

Shakespeare’s version of this history reinforces the English belief that a king needs to be both strong in character and have an accredited lineage. Richard was strong but his coronation did not happen because of his family. He had to crawl over their bodies and exercise great personal ambition to get to the crown. The battle between the houses of York and Lancaster remained awash with blood until they were finally united in marriage by his successor. This production aptly illustrates the difficulties and politics of his short-lived reign.

Commendable work was done by the actors of Lost and Found. Special kudos to the performance of Margaret Norwood who leads the company of players and makes a commanding Richard. They did allow master Light Designer Kevin Taylor and Sound Designer Rick Reid into their group to add their enhancement to the production. Taylor’s gentle touch with the lights created moody castle corridors out of a bare stage and added greatly to the final battle scene. Reid’s background sounds included trumpet flourishes and battle noises as well, taking us deeper into the scene. The set design included a pair of beautiful thrones to denote the privy chambers of Richard and other pieces that moved in and out to create the streets and locations needed. It was a little disconcerting at times to see, for instance, the pretty Linda Swanson Brown as Queen Elizabeth in one scene and then trying to play an undistinguished street person in the next. Realizing the difficulty of it, it would have been nice to have a slightly larger company so there was a clear “ensemble” for the smaller roles, allowing the major players to concentrate on their one character. However, after the first few times of watching players transform themselves from one character to another through costume, posture and attitude, it became easier to discern.

A WOW factor of 8!!