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A CurtainUp Review
Rose Rage

Rose Rage at Off-Broadway's Duke Theater
By Elyse Sommer

Jay Whittaker as Richard, Duke of Gloucester
Jay Whittaker as Richard, Duke of Gloucester
(Photo: Michael Brosilow )
Directors and adapters who condense Shakespeare's history plays into viscerally staged, all in one sitting productions are clearly onto something. Last year, director Jack O'Brien and adapter Dakin Matthews' conflated Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II was a hot ticket at Lincoln Center. To once again prove Hamlet right about brevity being the soul of wit, and that innovative staging can transform even the Bard's less popular plays memorably lively and original viewing for contemporary audiences, we now have Edward Hall and Roger Warren's three parts of Henry VI fitted under a single umbrella called Rose Rage. Not that these are your typical Fringe-length sixty or ninety-minute plays. While the Henry IV plays lopped two hours off the usual length, the Vivian Beaumont production still ran a hefty four hours with two intermissions. Rose Rage requires an even longer time commitment, but the 5 1/2 hour time frame includes two 15-minute intermissions and an hour and 15-minute dinner break. It's a commitment well worth making. The New 42nd Street co-production with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, like the one reviewed below by Lizzie Loveridge, is richly entertaining and paced to move "faster than thought."

The slaughterhouse setting is not just a fitting metaphor for the bloody horror of war but enables Hall and his multiple-role playing cast to transform this drama into a macabre ballet -- the recurring sound of butcher knives being sharpened, the chop-chop of raw meat and cabbages accompanying knifings and beheadings serving as an eerie sort of musical accompaniment. The timing of this choreography of murder and mayhem is absolutely stunning, as is the actors' agility (the Duke's stadium seats make the frequent navigation of those aisles quite a feat).

For details about the nasty power struggle known as the War of the Roses, I refer you to Lizzie's London review at the end of this box. Not being a purist, I didn't miss the excised Joan of Arc at all. As for the American cast, we are fortunate to have the Chicago Shakespeare Company's actors. All ten segue effortlessly and with incredible timing between their individual characters and ensemble roles. Richard W. Clothier's several roles represent a worthy double reprise since he appeared in London as well as Chicago.

I'd be happy to see more of all these Chicago players. While they must shift from role to role at such breakneck speed, some truly outstanding character portraits emerge nevertheless: Jay Whittaker is mesmerizing as that lump of deformed flesh eventually to become that most villainous of villains, Richard III (a portrait noone planning to see the Public Theater's soon to open Richard III with Peter Dinklage of The Station Agent will want to miss). Carman Lactivita's Kind Henry VI is the most poignant figure on stage and Scott Parkinson brings just a touch of Charles Ludlum to Queen Margaret before letting us see the Lady Macbeth-Iago-like steel of her ambition. Joe Forbich is impressive as both royal (the Earl of Warwick) and rebel (the Irish rebellion leader Jack Cade).

Michael Pavelka's set and costumes have transferred beautifully to the Duke's wide stage. And Ben Ormerod's casts all into dark and bloody gloom.

Hall and Warren are not the first to condense and rename these plays to make them more palatable and entertaining. Karin Conrood's 1996 version of the three Henry VI plays was also trimmed but it included Joan of Arc. Its two parts were sold as separate plays, ran 3 hours each and featured an even smaller cast (ten actors, including two women). It too was a fascinating and satisfying production (see my review of The Edged Sword & Black Sword), which just goes to prove that even plays rarely produced and considered Shakespeare Lite only need an imagination to transform them into Shakespeare Extra Strong.

Adapted (with Roger Warren) and directed by Edward Hall
Cast: Richard W. Clothier (Earl of Suffolk, Dick the Butcher, George Duke of Clarence, Ensemble); Jason Denuszek (General of Paris, Prince Edward, Ensemble); Will Dickerson (Duke of Somerset, Second Rebel, Rutland, Lady Elizabeth Gray, a Son, Ensemble); Joe Forbrich (Earl of Warwick, Jack Cade, Ensemble); Sean Fortunato (Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, Young Clifford, Lord Rivers, Ensemble); Chris Genebach (Cardinal Winchester, Lord Saye, Lord Clifford, Ensemble); Carman Lacivita (King Henry VI, John Talbot, Lady Bona, Ensemble); Fletcher McTaggart (Lord Talbot, Smith the Weaver, King Edward IV, Ensemble); Mark L. Montgomery (Duke of Exeter, First Rebel, Ensemble; Scott Parkinson (Queen Margaret, Vernon, Ensemble); Jay Whittaker (Bassett, Richard Duke of Gloucester, Clerk of Chatham, Ensemble); Bruce A. Young (Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Sir Humphrey Stafford, a Father, King Louis XI, Ensemble).
Production and Costume Design by Michael Pavelka.
Lighting Design: Ben Ormerod.
Musical Direction and Arrangements: Simon Slater
Properties Design: Pamela L. Parker.
Running Time: 5 1/2 hours, includes 2 intermission-- plus a 1 hour and 15-minute dinner break
Chicago Shakespeare Theater at the Duke on 42nd Street 212/239-6200
9/17/04 to 10/17/04. Wed, Fri - Sat at 6pm; Sun at 2pm
Tickets: $75

-- Lizzie Loveridge's Review of the London production.

She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France,
Whose tongue more poisons than the adder's tooth! . . . . .

O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide!
How couldst thou drain the life-blood of the child,
To bid the father wipe his eyes withal,
And yet be seen to bear a woman's face?
Women are soft, mild, pitiful and flexible;
Thou stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, remorseless.

-- Richard, Duke of York in Henry VI Part III addressed to Queen Margaret of Anjou

The three parts of Henry VI are somewhat daunting to any theatre producers other than the Royal Shakespeare Company which is almost obliged to stage them periodically. Although these plays form the crucial history of the loss of French territory and the Wars of the Roses from the death of Henry V to the accession to the throne of Richard III , they are rarely performed compared to the two plays they straddle, Henry V and Richard III . Edward Hall, following on from the success of his production of Henry V for the RSC last year, brings Rose Rage to London's West End via Berkshire's The Watermill Theatre. Once you have seen Henry VI, you will wonder how you could have been satisfied with the history cycle without the explanation of the inheritance of Henry V's infant son and the background and motivation of Richard III. Into two performances of just over two hours each, Hall and his co-adapter, Roger Warren have condensed the three Henry VI plays. The result is a mostly youthful cast of a dozen taking on the myriad parts of these most populated of Shakespeare's original plays. However a certain familiarity with the text will minimise the confusion and help identify the changes of character, although a change of costume usually gives an additional clue to a change of role.

Hall's production has all the physicality and vigour that we have come to expect of his Shakespearean repertoire. With the red and white crosses of Saint George and the enthusiastic crowd scenes of Jack Cade's peasant rebellion, the resonances are struck with England's army of soccer supporters today. Neither does Hall balk at depicting the violence of battle and political murder in a production which has some of the gore which seems to be drawing a younger element to London's theatres. All the violence is detached, choreographed in mime, with movement sound and lighting converging so that although impact is never actually made weapon with people, we still recoil and grimace. Red cabbages double as severed heads and slabs of offal are hacked up on slabs. The effect is a coup de theatre, reeking of authentic carnage.

Interestingly, the cast is all male, the few female roles being taken by men in boots and trousers with the odd feminine accessory, some ear rings, a stole. Outstanding of these is Robert Hands playing the She wolf of France, holy Henry VI's arranged marriage queen, Margaret of Anjou. At first Hands amuses, a man with few concessions to female impersonation, other than a shrill voice and flirtatious look but as Margaret is given real reason to feel venomous with the loss of her lover and her son's inheritance, so his performance intensifies. After all Margaret is a very ballsy woman. Vincent Leigh convinces as Margaret's seducer and lover, the Earl of Suffolk. Jonathan McGuinness is the diminutive Henry VI, as out of his depth as any young monarch whose kingdom is torn by warring factions. There are uniformly good performances from the cast bringing to life the rose garden scene where Lancaster choses red and York the white rose signifying the split that is to last half a century. Historic figures like the Earl of Warwick, nicknamed the Kingmaker because of his power broking and Jack Cade, the charismatic rebel anti-taxation leader, are both brought to life by Tom Bell.

Michael Pavelka's design is set in a twentieth century abattoir. Workers, white coated, industrial masked, rubber gloved and with hats like those worn in the Foreign Legion, create a percussion by banging knives and hatchets from behind the rusting grills of ancient lockers. The nobility wear military uniforms, the children are dressed as miniature adults and played by actors lacking in stature. Like all of Edward Hall's Shakespeare there is popular folk song and hymns to rouse and inspire -- the music adding texture and emotion to these plays.

The memory of Michael Boyd's award winning complete Henry VI, staged by the RSC last year, is fresh for many and a hard fifteen acts to follow. My reservation with Rose Rage is that some of the pruning has cut favoured scenes although much of the editing concentrates on losing the First Part, which is considered inferior to Parts Two and Three, and thought to be authored by others bedside Shakespeare. As I have already mentioned, the change of roles can be too rapid for comprehension - there are 47 roles in Shakespeare's Part Two, more than any other of his plays. The mirrored battle scene where father and son roll over their dead opponent to find it is their own parent/child loses its impact here as that most powerful image of what construes a civil war. I conclude however that some of Henry VI, excitingly staged by young blood Hall is well worth the visit.

Rose Rage
by William Shakespeare adapted by Edward Hall and Roger Warren
Directed by Edward Hall

Design: Michael Pavelka
With: Jonathan McGuinness, Robert Hands, Matthew Flynn, Christian Myles, Emilio Doorgasingh, Simon Scardifield, Vincent Leigh, Guy Williams, Richard Clothier, Tim Treloar, Tony Bell, Jules Werner.
Lighting Designer: Ben Ormerod
Music arranged and devised by Tony Bell, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart and Vincent Leigh
Running time: Both parts run Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 901 3356
Booking to 21st July 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th June 2002 performance at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1
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