All of its pieces add up to Shakespeare’s Richard III but Zombie Joe’s version directed by Denise Devin is certainly an oddball mix. Picture a thin, pale Duke of Gloucester (W. Lochridge O’Bryan) with hollow cheekbones and sunken eyes who looks to be barely out of his twenties, a Lady Anne (Anna Gillcrist) with the essence (and visual resemblance) of Julia Stiles, and a wild-eyed Margaret (Tina Preston) with the haunted look of the almost dead, and you get the idea.
Most of the actors, with exception of O’Bryan, Preston, and Sarah Fairfax (Elizabeth), play multiple roles, with much of the cast skewing on the young side. The basics are there, but if you aren’t familiar with the story and the relationships, it isn’t always easy to distinguish one character from another. This can be a challenging play for those without the life experience or length of Shakespeare study to fully engage with the text at a visceral level. It can also limit an ensemble member’s ability to clearly communicate which of his characters he is portraying in any given moment.
O’Bryan’s Richard is dark and full of demons. He moves erratically around the shoebox stage like a drug addict in need of a fix with frequent outbursts that made me wonder if it wouldn’t have been interesting to explore the play seriously as camp. (I swear I thought he was going to hit Hasting’s bloody head in a bag against the wall at one point, but he didn’t.) Stylistically many of the actors have the wide-eyed searching around the room look that could pull it off terrifically.
Elements of it already come close – Margaret’s curse scene, the zombies in Richard’s dream, Fairfax’s Elizabeth thinking with every muscle of her face, Josh Imlay’s young prince clad in neon turquoise velvet. When the play stylistically moves in that direction it is surprisingly effective, and as a by-product, it becomes very funny. When it doesn’t, the play still moves quickly, though a bit generically, through the one-hour adaptation.
Jennifer Holloway’s sound design intensifies in the final scenes, driving the action forward through the news of the young princes’ deaths, the battle scenes, Richard’s death, and Richmond’s (Tyler McAuliffe) eventual victory. The fight sequences are uncredited but it is always impressive to witness sword fights ZJU style within inches of audience members sitting in the front row.
May 10 – June 16, 2013
ZJU Theatre Group
4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
Fridays at 8:30 pm and Sundays at 7:00 pm
Tickets: (818) 202-4120 or www.Zombiejoes.com.