The Oakland Tribune, August 1998
Chad Jones

On an increasingly chilly Friday evening in Berkeley, the noise of the world played an intriguing overture to what would be a gripping night of in-your-face Shakespeare. Planes zoomed overhead, babbling kids rode clattering bikes, freight trains rumbled in the distance and the occasional whoosh of a BART train wafted by.

All that motion, energy and sound only seemed to feed the Shotgun Players production of Richard III in the back parking lot at King Middle School in residential North Berkeley. The troupe calls this a 'free Shakespeare in the park(ing lot)' production, and for the next three weeks, they're doing it on Fridays and Saturday at King and on Sundays in downtown Berkeley's Hink's Garage.

There's something elemental about the Shotgun setup. In addition to the picnic tables already planted in the blacktop, the Shotgun folks have upturned plastic buckets and put cushions on them to serve as seats. Comfort is not the order of the evening.

A large, decrepit-looking white delivery truck has the Shotgun logo spray-painted on its side, and a flimsy banner and two black platforms provide the play's only backdrop. Four propane lanterns on poles are set up and lit in anticipation of approaching darkness. And the darkness comes, in more ways than one.

Of all Shakespeare's history plays, Richard III has long been the most popular and most frequently performed. Brutal, compelling and head-spinningly complicated, Richard can be a feast of evil wreaking royal havoc, or it can be a convoluted mess in which actors struggle to make sense of the plot as it weaves its way through the end of England's labyrinthine War of the Roses. As the Plantaganets, Lancasters and Yorks vie for the throne of England, they stir up enough political corruption and sexual malice to rival an American presidency.

Illuminated by the setting sun and then by lantern light, unaided by props or fancy costumes, this Shotgun Richard is a revelation. By virtue of its direct simplicity, the production is able to harness the considerable energy of its young, appealing cast and turn a bit of hardscrabble pavement into a dynamic theatre space.

Because Richard III is so complicated, it would be helpful to read a brief synopsis before you see the play. The Shotgun program provides a list of character descriptions, but because the 10 actors are playing 35 roles with little change of costume, things can get confusing.

Still, the focus and drive of director Patrick Dooley's production leaves no doubt that this is the story of a man whose every breath serves his heinous ambition. Richard is described in the play as the devil, a 'rooting hog,' a 'son of hell' and a 'lump of foul deformity.' This is not a nice man.

Shotgun's Richard, Michael Storm, delivers a fiercely robust performance. The play's success hinges on the audience's relationship with Richard. Storm has the physical dexterity to make his hobbled character move like a gorilla on the attack as well as the acting chops to make his many monologues and asides fresh and compelling. To render this horrid man - who isn't above killing children or compromising his victims' wives to seize the throne - tolerable for nearly three hours is quite a trick. But Storm pulls it off.

Also good in the uniformly strong, dexterous cast is Beth Donohue, whose Queen Elizabeth is a prideful match for Richard's venomous maneuvering. Antoinette Abbamonte gets one of the play's most dazzling moments as Queen Margaret, who curses Richard and his court in a famous mad scene. With a wonderful bit of stagecraft, Abbamonte delivers all her lines in sign language while Ali Dadgar stands on one of the rear platforms and translates the movement into Shakespearean verse.

The Shotgun Players have spent this summer providing free theatre to the East Bay. Their spirited, colorful adaptation of The Odyssey has been touring Berkeley and Oakland parks and ends this weekend in Mosswood Park. It's all the more impressive, then, that this same cast sheds their whimsical Greek costumes for the deadly serious street clothes of Richard III.

No other theatre company in the Bay Area has shown such range this summer, and both Shotgun performances are free. That fact alone is impressive, but when both shows have proven to be so good, the fact of Shotgun's emergence as a major, audience-pleasing theatrical force is indisputable.

The East Bay Express, December, 1998 Year in Review
Kerry Reid

As someone who's been covering East Bay theatre since September, I feel a bit of a fraud writing about the year in theatre. That caveat aside, I find it significant that the most exciting and audacious production I saw in the last four months was one I didn't get a chance to review at the time: Shotgun Players' 'Shakespeare in the Parking Lot' presentation of Richard III.

Patrick Dooley, Shotgun's indefatigable artistic director, wrote a letter in the company's summer season mailer in which he noted that Richard would also be running at the California Shakespeare Festival, and boldly concluded, '1) Ours will be better. 2) Ours will be free.'

He was right on both counts. Performed in street clothes, on a bare platform with minimal lighting, Shotgun's Richard connected with Shakespeare's story and the audience in a way woefully lacking from Cal Shakes' flaccid production. Even the butt-numbing concrete seating and chilly winds blowing across the roof of Hink's Garage couldn't distract me from Shotgun's interpretation; at Cal Shakes, even with a far more comfortable environment, I was restless and irritated at several points.

...Though I've certainly seen productions I've enjoyed in Orinda, this past season in particular I was plagued with a vague sense that Cal Shakes offers Shakespeare for people who aren't sure they're going to like it but think that they ought to make the effort in the name of culture. The Shotgun production, on the other hand, which featured actors roaming through the audience and using props collected from the crowd before the performance, accomplished the task of proving that Shakespeare belongs to everyone, not just those with the disposable income to buy a season subscription.

It wasn't necessarily the quality of the acting that made Shotgun's production so much more viscerally interesting than Cal Shakes. Indeed, several performances in the Shotgun emsemble were decidedly ragged, and more than a few of the players were struggling with the language at times. But Shotgun was blessed by a smoldering and multilayered turn by Michael Storm in the title role than ran circles around David Ellenstein's shallow and smarmy interpretation in the Cal Shakes production. (There were, in fact, moments in the latter when I half-expected Ellenstein to do a wacky take to the audience and say, a la Lou Costello, 'I've been a baaad little boy!') I should note, in fairness, that doing an entire season of Shakespeare presents casting difficulties that smaller companies...don't have to contend with. That said, it's still difficult to believe that Cal Shakes, with its high profile, couldn't come up with a stronger Richard.

...What really made the Shotgun production soar was director Dooley's ability to get underneath the text and find new ways to deliver the familiar material. Most notable was the decision to cast Queen Margaret with a hearing-impaired actor (Antoinette Abbamonte), who fiercely delivered Margaret's famous series of curses in Act I with American Sign Language while another actor intoned the text. Though I was initially skeptical when I heard about this - I frankly wondered if this would turn out to be a case of 'stunt casting' done without regard to the integrity of the story - the sequence was one of the most breathtaking and bold choices I've seen in a Shakespeare play. We completely understand the depths of Margaret's rage, grief, and despair - in the Shotgun production, she was literally beyond the powers of language and reason. And the ritual, rhythmic chanting of the 'ghost ensemble' in Act V, as they bade Richmond to 'live, and flourish' and cursed Richard to 'despair, and die,' was simple, chilling, and wholly effective.

...By making generic, safe choices, Cal Shakes runs the risk of making Shakespeare inconsequential.

...Among all the smaller companies in the East Bay, Shotgun arguably stands the best chance of moving on to bigger things. It could become the East Bay equivalent of San Francisco's Eureka Theatre Company in the 1980s, a midsize company with a reputation for edgy new work that attracts highly talented writers, actors, designers, and directors.

...If I have to spend another season sitting on concrete, without benefit of conventional civilities like accessible bathrooms and gourmet concessions, in order to enjoy another transcendent Shakespearean production like Shotgun's Richard, that's a sacrifice I'm more than eager to make.

SF Weekly, August 26, 1998
Michael Scott Moore

My Kingdom for an SUV

"Shakespeare in the Park" is a summer staple. The Shotgun Players are giving their first-ever "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot" tour not just to be smartasses, but also because Richard III has an atmosphere of evil that doesn't quite blend with green grass, birds, and wine. This is true enough. But it also has a grandeur that doesn't quite go with stripes painted on concrete, or with a big sign in the background that says "KITTREDGE STREET PARKING," or with cars moving back and forth while the ghosts of Richard's victims haunt his dreams. To me the smartass name of the tour doesn't need any excuse, but I have to concede the point; would A Midsummer Night's Dream work in a parking lot?

Richard III is the fourth in a tetralogy of Shakespearean histories that presented Elizabethan audiences with the background to their royal house. It shows the end of the War of the Roses, which had the families of York and Lancaster fighting for the crown. Richard is a deformed Duke of Gloucester on the York side with royal ambitions, and when the play opens, his brother Edward IV is king. Richard kills both Edward and his other brother, George, leaving himself in line for the crown; he's already killed his nephew, Prince Edward, in order to get at his nephew's wife, Lady Anne. ("Was ever woman in this humour wooed?" he famously says.) He becomes Richard III for a while until Henry, Earl of Richmond -- a Lancaster -- marshals an army to free England from his reign and at last marries a daughter of the house of York, joining "the white rose and the red" into a new House of Tudor, and bringing peace to England. The Earl of Richmond becomes Henry VII, who grandfathered Elizabeth I. So this was recent history for Shakespeare, making it not just emotional for his audience but also much easier to follow.

The Shotgun Players do it without props or regular costumes. The only frill is an oil drum pounded for dramatic effect. Michael Storm plays a seething, violent Richard, with a nimble feel for the rise and fall of anger in his lines. His monologues are the strongest, but the vicious bickering with Lady Anne and other members of the court is also powerful. Marin Van Young, though, plays Lady Anne with almost no subtlety, screaming at Richard out of grief rather than letting the emotion steam up with a quiet heat, and to me all the scenes that don't work in this production are the same way: noisy when they should be dark and intense. A deaf woman, Antoinette Abbamonte, plays the witchlike Queen Margaret. She signs most of her lines and has to be interpreted out loud by another player, but her body is so expressive that the role is fascinating. Since most of the actors play more than one character, and since the costumes are so fluid, it's not easy to tell the cast apart without a script, but the show is self-respecting and strong, and so involving by the end you forget you're sitting in a parking lot.

SF Weekly, May, 3 1998
Heather Wisner

Gay-themed theater, already a Bay Area perennial, blossoms in June during Gay Pride month. Among the most promising entries thus far are the local debut of the international hit Burning Blue, and the Shotgun Players' production of Martin Sherman's Bent. Blue, written by former naval flier D.M.W. Greer, is the story of four male pilots whose close-knit friendship becomes the target of a homosexual witch hunt conducted by the military brass. (The time is recent, just prior to Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" compromise.) A night in a Hong Kong disco sets the probe in motion, although sexuality is merely a catalyst in the drama's keen exploration of love, honor, and brutality. The play, lavished with awards and critical praise, sold out houses in London, Johannesburg, and L.A., and actor Kevin Otto, who starred in the L.A. and Johannesburg shows, reprises his role as Lt. Dan Lynch in the local production, joined by other international cast members and guided by L.A.-London director John T. Hickok. Bent, meanwhile, first opened on Broadway in 1979, where it was greeted with a kind of collective shocked disbelief. It's hard to imagine now, but before gay history had found the kind of audience it has today, Sherman's account of gays being persecuted during the Holocaust and the homoerotic element in the concentration camps was a widely unheard-of war story.