Those who haven't seen Shakespeare's "Richard III" will not understand what's going on in the 90-minute version to be televised on Channel 4 tonight at 7.

Except for a few words about the National Players at Catholic University, who staged this for WRC at Hartke Theater, there is no narration. There is nothing that sets the stage enough to turn this into a quick and easy "Richard III" for beginners. Yet it's hard to imagine what other purpose a 90-minute condensation could serve. And if newcomers do watch tonight, they will not be inspired to see the next "Richard III" that comes along.

People who have seen the play haven't much reason to watch, either. They have seen it done better.

In scene after scene, the camera arrives a few moments too late or too early - despite some fast, jolting cuts. Sometimes the sound is shrill and tinny, sometimes muffled. The single set is so drab and dark it practically swallows the costumes. Characters commit "bloody deeds," but there's no sign of the red stuff.

The actors try hard - too hard. Apparently no one mentioned that TV acting, with its close-ups in our living rooms, requires more restraint than stage acting. And everyone, from young boys to old women, look like a college student.

Why has WRC produced this? Maybe because "local programming" is cheap and relatively effortless when you use amateur actors, an amateur "studio" and a playwright who won't demand a penny. Next time, how about a professional production of a new play set in Washington?