Conscience Is Cowardly

Photo by David Lee Cuthert/
SledgehammerShakespeare's Richard III has stood for centuries as a powerful political diatribe shot through with dastardly deeds and a redemption tale. But now we are in the world of Sledgehammer Theatre—a deliciously disturbing world.

In that world (conceived for this production by artistic director Kirsten Brandt), Richard wears a suit and carries a cane, subjects his victims to televised executions, and is shadowed by pop bad-guy icons who insist on videotaping their atrocities. Accented by a beautiful two-tiered set and drowned in multicolored lights, Richard III is a play worthy of its author and its modern audience. It oozes with modern sensationalism—there's ample gunplay, combat fatigues replace armor, and six active televisions remind us of the role of spectacle in contemporary politics. It's theater at its finest, making the play not merely accessible but also timely; we become spectators of spectators who root for news of death and destruction rather than no news at all.

Shakespeare's complicated plot has Richard murdering his way to the throne. The man who succeeds in getting society to choke down Richard's rhetoric, the Duchess of Buckingham, is now a woman downing Red Bulls and wearing a power suit—St. John, perhaps? Richard's marriage to Lady Anne is a farce; the disturbed young girl is but a pawn in Richard's quest for public acceptance. He ultimately leaves her strung up—literally, wrists slit, blood dripping into a wine glass for a toast to good King Richard.

Murder, murder, evil grin, more murder. None of this should come as a shock to anyone who watches the news nightly, eager for reports from the front.

Lou Seitchik is slippery, sardonic and twitchy in all the right places as the title character. But it's the supporting cast that secures the brilliance of this production. The 17-member ensemble (Julie Jacobs as Buckingham and Michael Severance as Mr. Durden/Catesby are especially noteworthy) works magic throughout. That black magic, backlit by all the usual suspects in Sledge's crew (flawless lighting once again by David Lee Cuthbert), creates a poignant and disturbing theatrical experience.

If Richard's murders do not exactly make him a positive role model, at least he became king; we respect winners. Here's to the new world order—same as the old one, but this time, televised.

Richard III by Sledgehammer Theatre at St. Cecilia's Playhouse, 1620 Sixth Ave., San Diego, (619) 544-1484. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through Nov. 25. $15-$20; discounts for students, seniors and military.


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