Now is the summer of our discontent. With the opening of Richard III, arguably the most tragic—and most violent—of the Bard's history plays, the 2012 Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe is under way.
The crippled, homicidal Richard is one of the most despicable characters in Shakespeare's canon, but also one of the most fascinating in his tirades and deviously inspired machinations. In the hands of Jay Whittaker, this Richard is a scowling, at times shrill, menace, moving like a virus through the House of York. Whittaker's portrayal is tireless, undermined only by a first-act costume that makes him look like Star Wars' C3PO.
While Henry, Earl of Richmond (Dan Amboyer), is his battlefield antagonist, Richard's most arresting foil is the flailing Queen Margaret (Robin Moseley). Ultimately, Richard's conscience is undone and his fate decreed by the ghosts of those he has slaughtered, a shadowy sequence accomplished on the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre stage with haunting resonance.
This staging's more contemporary trappings (graffiti'd walls, posters plastered with warplanes and missiles, gun-toting soldiers, videographers) quicken the pace and deepen the psychology of Richard's ambition and malevolence. There's a lack of continuity in the costuming, however, which dresses some characters in more traditional robes while others, like Queen Elizabeth (Dana Green), look as if clad for an opening-night cocktail party.
The sonorous Robert Foxworth is a dignified presence as the defiant Lord Hastings, and Jacques C. Smith is stalwart and sympathetic as the Duke of Buckingham, the cousin and initial ally who sees Richard for his true colors, and dies for it.
The first act of Richard III, running more than an hour-and-a-half and a bit long for sustained tension, is dominated by the histrionics of the scheming hunchback who would be king and by the shock and awe of those victimized by his deadly agenda. The more swiftly paced Act 2 culminates with a brief but exciting battle scene, the gunfire of which echoes in the trees surrounding the outdoor Lowell Davies stage. For the doomed Richard, war is hell, and what lies in its wake is likely to be more of the same.
Richard III runs through Sept. 29 at the Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up; oldglobe.org
Legally Blonde: A musical version of the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon, not to mention the novel of the same name, in which a vacuous young woman enrolls in Harvard University to win back her boyfriend. Opens June 27 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Made in the USA: A revue of various music styles that are the genuine American article, including folk, gospel, ragtime, blues and country. Opens June 28 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
The Man Who Came to Dinner: A pompous critic and radio personality is injured in a fall on the way to dinner at the home of a small-town Ohio family and must stay longer than planned as he heals. Opens June 29 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
In My Life—A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles: The story of the greatest band ever formed is told from the perspective of their manager, Brian Epstein, including events that occurred after he died. The live music is played by Beatles tribute band Abbey Road. One night only, June 30, at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Pride and Prejudice: Arts Off Broadway and Ivy Players present the stage adaptation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel revolving around protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. Through June 27 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Coming Attractions: In this comedy, the proprietor of a hotel that had once catered to celebrities who wanted to get away from prying eyes has died, and some colorful folks have come to pay their respects. Runs through July 1 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Hoodoo Love: A young woman flees the cotton fields of Mississippi in hopes of becoming a blues singer. As you might expect, there are obstacles in her path. Through July 1 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. moolelo.net
Blood and Gifts: A piece of historical fiction, this one centers on a CIA operative during the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and is rife with geopolitical intrigue involving the Americans, the Brits, the Soviets, the Afghanis and the Pakistanis. Runs through July 8 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Rent: Artists living in Manhattan's Lower East Side struggle to get by in this Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through July 8 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
'Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3: You, the theatergoer, are a member of a catechism class and part of the show in this interactive comedy. Through July 8 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatersandiego.com
Wicked: The Wizard of Oz was told from the point of view of Dorothy. This musical follows Galinda and Elphaba, who'd go on to become the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West, respectively. Through July 15 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Incorruptible: In 13th-century France, the miracles have dried up at a local monastery because rivals have stolen the bones of a patron saint. Hijinks ensue. Through July 21 at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Harmony, Kansas: In this world-premiere musical, a gay farmer is convinced by his city-slicker partner to join a gay men's singing group in a not-so-gay rural community. Through July 22 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Joe vs. the Volcano: Remember the 1990 movie starring Tom Hanks about a guy who thinks he's dying of "brain cloud" and agrees to jump into a volcano? Well, now it's musical theater. Through July 29 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 2 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Inherit the Wind: The Old Globe takes on the classic fictionalized version of the true story of the Scopes "monkey trial," at the end of which a high-school teacher was convicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. The 1955 play used the trial as a parallel to the McCarthyism of the era. Through Sept. 25 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Richard III: King Edward IV's malicious, manipulative, murderous little brother lusts for England's throne, takes it and presides over a reign of terror in Shakespeare's history play. Through Sept. 29 in The Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
As You Like It: If it's a case of mistaken identity, it must be the Bard. The story of lovebirds Rosalind and Orlando in the Forest of Arden is part of The Old Globe's 2012 Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 30 in the Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net