Joe Papp’s ‘Richard III,’ with George C. Scott


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December 4, 1957, Vol. III, No. 6

Theatre: Richard III

By Jerry Tallmer

“Richard III” marks the second time since the beginning on East 6th Street that Joseph Papp has come a cropper — and not badly so, but just enough. As on the earlier occasion (“Titus Andronicus”), it is at least 50 per cent the playwright’s fault, for in another, heavier way “Richard” is just as unworkable and unpoetic a grotesquerie as “Titus.”

The question is, and I say this all the more strongly for just having seen the Olivier movie, why does anyone ever want to put it on? I suppose to prove you’ve really arrived. But there was more vivacity and communicated ardor in the Papp group when in plain white shirts and black trousers it was doing simple shows like “As You Like It,” each actor fired with the joy of the language, than there is now with halberds, penons, platforms, trapdoors, frills and furbelows, and a cast of thousands. The technical aspects, particularly the sets by Bernie Joy, are very good, by the way. Something, however, has been lost, or will soon be lost if nobody calls for the pause that refreshes.

The Hecksher production actually stands up well beside the Olivier movie, and I have what is even to myself the insanity to suggest that George C. Scott’s interpretation of the title role is not merely as legitimate as Sir Laurence’s, but perhaps on its own terms a good deal more consistent. Scuttling across stage like a salacious giant crab, winking through his soliloquies, kissing babies, grinning, grinning, always grinning, Mr. Scott makes of his Richard the Embodiment of Evil as a Clown. He rarely modulates, in fact he never modulates, but it is, as I say, a ding an sich, less moodily “psychological” than Olivier’s characterization, and if that’s the way he and director Stuart Vaughan see Richard, they’re entitled to the opinion.

Others in the company are too many (46, by my count) to cite except where especially deserving. These would be Sheppard Kerman, Paul Ballantyne, David Metcalf, Mervyn Williams, Karl E. Williams, Lance Cunard, Jack Cannon, and Robert Blackburn, listed in the traditional order of appearance. I thought the ladies as a whole fared rather worse than the men, with Eulalie Noble a far too “earthy” Queen Margaret and young Marcia Morris missing most of the sexual implications of Lady Anne. Jerry Stiller is wasted in a bit part.

A piece like this is always hard to write. What I guess I’m trying to say is that the “Richard III” on 104th Street is pretty good but pretty boring.

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