OSF RIchard III, 2005, directed by Libby Appel

[N.B.: I just stumbled on this mini-review on the April 2005 archives of my homepage/blog, back before Bardolatry was covering PNW stage productions of Shax as well as movies, and thought ye PNW local yokels and OSF groupies would enjoy it.]

James Newcomb as Richard III, OSF 2005I’ve had a chance to see Richard III in the Bowmer Theatre and recommend it highly. I might add that though I’m a longtime OSF supporter, I had yet to see a Libby Appel-directed production of which I could wholeheartedly approve. Indeed, I viewed her recent Macbeth, which opened the New Theatre a couple of seasons ago, as arguably the most embarrassingly ill-conceived production I had ever seen on stage, with her previous Hamlet running a distant second. Appel’s productions occasionally come off to me as such overly cerebral attempts at “high-concept” artsy-fartsy, that they end up just plain lacking in good theatrical sense; so striving to be Important and Original that she’s forgotten that her first job as a director is to tell a whomping good story.

Appel’s 2005 Richard III, however, is both lucid and highly entertaining. She does an interesting recurring motif with the thorny Margaret that I liked very much, and the set and costume designs support the overall vision of the production—think “bottled spider” and you’ll have it—with dramatic intensity.

But the foremost reason to see this production is the unbelievably dynamic and athletic performance of James Newcomb as the Bottled Spider himself, scurrying and swinging about the stage, his ever-widening web, on metal crutches that begin to take on the truly creepy appearance of elongated arachnid appendages. (Shelob, make way!) Indeed, this is a performance so fantastically physical that the only thing I can compare it to, Newcomb’s fluent vocal performance notwithstanding, is one of Chaplin’s or Keaton’s silent film olympiads.

I fell madly in love—this from an arachnaphobe of the first magnitude.

Fun Fact: According to his OSF bio, Newcomb, like Derek Jacobi and a surprising number of Shakespeare actors, including the late great Midwestern stage actor Stephen Hemming, is an Oxfordian.

Categories: BardStage.


  1. Ray

    This production of Richard III was one of best I have seen. James Newcomb was just incredible as Richard. My son and I saw the play, he as 15 then, and he still talks about this production. We were riveted the entire time. It was the first time I’ve seen an audience spontaneously jump to their feet in unison for a standing ovation. The entire cast did a wonderful job. After the show we were able to meet for a group discussion with a cast member and James was clearly a leader and motivator to the group. She also mentioned that he worked out in a gym regularly to maintain his stamina for the role. In addition he used the crutches to get around town for a number of weeks before the show so he would be adept at using them on stage. As an aside for any educators reading this – earlier we had seen “Looking for Richard” with Al Pacino which is an excellent introduction to Richard III. Thanks for the posting and bringing back such a great memory.

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