In the heat of the summer, the politics heats up as well; and Lucinda Danner Gainey — the director of Bare Theatre and Raleigh Little Theatre’s current joint production of Henry VI: War of the Roses, which concludes its two-week run on Aug. 4-7 in RLT‘s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, casts an abbreviated version of all three plays of the Bard’s Henry VI trilogy, to encompass only the treason, bitterness, and bloodiness of the War of the Roses (1455-87), holding up a mirror to our current Presidential campaigns.
“The underlying theme,” Gainey says, is “deftly summarized in two lines (from Part Two): ‘While these do labour for their owne preferment,/Behooves it us to labour for the Realme.'” Deftly, indeed.
To have encapsulated in 90 minutes the blood, horror, scheming, and ambitious selfishness of both periods is a clever move and surprisingly entertaining. Lucinda Gainey has also shifted the time period into a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which mankind has reverted to dark ages conflict, doubling her metaphor.
Gainey has also cast “non-traditionally,” and drawn attention to it by using the feminine pronouns for male characters played by women. That casting is fine, although it includes a few actors who tend to recite their lines. But the cast’s energetic, high-level performances drive the story. Gainey calls her experiment a wild ride; and it surely is, with dramatic slow-motion fight scenes devised by Heather J. Strickland and Jason Bailey, and a quickly moving plot that “sweeps along,” often driven by the drummed rhythms of G. Todd Buker and company.
Makeup designer Lachlan Watson, who doubles as King Henry VI, and costume designer Katie Moorehead vividly transport the action into Dystopian Tomorrow. A history reminder: The War of the Roses were between the House of Lancaster (Red) and the House of York (White), skirmishes that lasted from 1455 to 1487 and involved battles that included the Plantagenets and Margaret of Anjou, who married the young Henry VI, but was really in love with the first Duke of Suffolk. The divisive and self-serving loyalties and squabblings bear easy comparison with the Presidential politics of 2016, absent the blood.
Henry VI is amiably played by Lachlan Watson, who displays both the young king’s fragility and his regalness. Rebecca Blum portrays Henry’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou, with sensuality in her relationship with Suffolk and the fierceness of a warrior queen in battle.
The Duke of Suffolk is created by Maxine Eloi, who is effectively Shakespearean in her delivery of lines, such that we are very aware of what she says, because she understands what she is saying. Hers is an excellent performance.
Katie Barrett is a bloodthirsty Clifford, ordinarily a minor part; but Barrett brings him into the fore with charismatic ferocity. The Duke of York, technically the legitimate heir to the throne, and a true politician and a friend when necessary and equally ruthless competitor when necessary, is in the capable hands of Sean A. Brosnahan.
Seth Blum is a magnificent Richard III, bitter and relentless. His interpretation of the “Ay, Edward will use women honorably” speech was a highlight of the evening, filled with meaning and emotion from the heart.
The Messenger, who appears on stage but five or six times, bursts on stage and audience with gusto. Katy Koop does a great job of these several opportunities.
Henry VI really is an ensemble effort, and the entire cast has obviously worked hard to make for a gripping entertainment. Moreover, for some portion of the show, the wall of trees behind stage pulsates with the sound of peepers seeking mates, which somehow truly enhances the atmosphere of outdoor theater.
Bare Theatre’s track record with Shakespeare continues to rate high in our opinion, and we look forward to more of their fine work.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 3rd Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2016/08/03/theater-review-three-shakespeare-plays-are-pared-down-to-a-ninety-minute-game-of-dramatic-chess-in-henry-vi and Aug. 3rd mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/henry-vi/Event?oid=5051018; Aug. 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article93076087.html; and June 30th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow guest blog by director Lucinda Danner Gainey: http://www.artsnownc.com/guest-blog-raleigh-little-theatres-henry-vi-war-roses-wild-ride/.
Bare Theatre and Raleigh Little Theatre present HENRY VI: THE WAR OF THE ROSES at 8 p.m. Aug. 4 and 5 and 5 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7 in RLT‘s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/henry-vi/, http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/16-17/henryvi.html, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1166558076697126/.
Bare Theatre: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre.
Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows.
King Henry VI of England (1421-71): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VI_of_England (Wikipedia).
Henry VI, Part 1 (1591 history play): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VI,_Part_1 (Wikipedia).
Henry VI, Part 2 (1591 history play): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VI,_Part_2 (Wikipedia).
Henry VI, Part 3 (1591 history play): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_VI,_Part_3 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/henry-vi-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Lucinda Danner Gainey (Cary, NC director): http://www.lucindagainey.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/lucinda.d.gainey and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lucinda-Gainey-Voice-Actor/174701079223427 (Facebook pages), and https://twitter.com/LucindaGaineyVO (Twitter page).
Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh: http://www.visitraleigh.com/wherefore/ (official website).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.