Lisa Wolpe stalks around the stage, sneering like Snidely Whiplash, in the title role of “Richard III.” Elina Katsioula’s angular set design for the L.A. Women’s Shakespeare Company staging is full of spider webs and dark corners, setting up the evil king as the center of the web he spins. It’s a conceit that works well in this straightforward, all-female production.
Director Maureen Shea makes little effort to hide that all her actors are female: They don’t bind their chests or do much to their hair, nor do they affect beards. Yet one quickly becomes oblivious to the actors’ gender, because the performances are generally fine and convincing regardless of sex.
Shea sets out her mission in the program as an exploration of good and evil , and of our tolerance of evil in our midst, and she mostly attains those goals. “Richard III” also has political implications that are particularly appropriate in an election year. This forthright staging presents clear language and strong interpretations, but misses the subtlety that underlies great Shakespeare.
Wolpe is fine as the spinner of intrigues and smooth operator at the center of the play. She conveys both Richard’s evil and his persuasive side; she has a good voice and handles the physical aspects of this “lump of foul deformity” well.
Other standouts are Lisa Porter as the Duke of Buckingham, who delivers her lines with great clarity and insight; Linda Bisesti, making the most of the smallish part of Catesby; Carole Waddle and Colleen Kane, offering a bit of comic relief as the squeaky-voiced Murderers; and Veralyn Jones as the dignified , heartbroken Queen Elizabeth.
Lighting by Teresa R. Enroth is effective; less so costumes by Jeanne Reith, which are inconsistent with the historical period. Composer Shelby Flint and sound designer Peter Stenshoel add an eerie aural atmosphere.
The production is running much longer than the two hours, 25 minutes promised in the program, a problem that needs to be corrected: After more than three hours in the theater’s uncomfortable chairs, half the audience leaves walking like Richard.