Jesse J. Perez in "Seize the King." Photo courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse
At one point in Seize the King, playwright Will Power’s reimagination of Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard makes a pointed distinction between “not the truth” and a “lie.” He also rails against immigrants and insists on the loyalty of those in his sphere. If that characterization bears resemblance to someone currently occupying a position of great power, it’s purely intentional. But Power’s new play, making its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, also honors The Bard’s 16th-century treatise on the struggle between goodness and evil in an adaptation of Richard III that is bold, exciting and propulsive.
Power, who is a pioneer of hip-hop theater, has turned Shakespeare’s second-lengthiest work (after Hamlet) into an urgent, 95-minute play that ingeniously mixes the formal language of Richard III and a contemporary, streetwise vernacular replete with fast-flying metaphors and profanities. The end result is a sharp, lyrical script that blurs the line between the past and the present, while positing that ambition and depravity are not the province of merely one king, one country or one moment in time.
Seize the King marks the last Playhouse directing stint for Jaime Castaneda, its outgoing associate artistic director, who’s headed to L.A. It’s a grand finale for him, with a tight five-person cast fronted by Jesse J. Perez. His Richard is not the odious, deformed king of classical interpretations, but a conniving, devious figure who levelly addresses the audience, and whose basest passions simmer beneath the surface.
Power’s play omits a great deal of Shakespeare’s text and interweavings, and many of Richard III’s characters (all but Perez play multiple parts in Seize the King). This is a Richard III for the 21st century served up with more humor, but with the same cautionary themes and no less ferocity. Much of that ferocity comes from drummer Richard Sellers, whose percussion from above the stage provides transitions between Seize the King’s short scenes and fills the Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre with pulsating dramatic tension.
The theater-in-the-round setting, enhanced by the magic of lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, further ensures that Seize the King is a stirring, immersive show, and one that should not be missed.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/29/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.