Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Henry VI - Performance Log (August 2006)

Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 & 3
Adapted and directed by Ken Holmes
Volunteer Park, Seattle, WA
Aug. 12, 2006


Mirabile dictu, Randall and I saw a production of Henry VI (!) August 12 performed by Greenstage 2006 in Volunteer Park, Seattle. This is the 18th season of a Shakespeare in the Park company. They played at the foot of a sloping lawn in front of a cement stage/band shell (which they never used) between the Volunteer Park conservatory and the Asian Art Museum. Weather sunny and 80 degrees; some typical Seattle airplane noise; audience about 125 on blankets; actors only several feet from the first blanket and sometimes making excursions and alarums through the crowd itself; entrances right dovetailed with exits left (or vice versa), but the actors still get workout credit for jogging a total of about a mile to and from backstage [aside: my current favorite song title is Andy Wahlberg's "You Call It Jogging, But I Call It Running Around"]. There are fifteen in the cast, ten men and five women, none of them also cast in Greenstage's other summer production, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The play was adapted from Parts 1, 2, and 3 by director Ken Holmes and ran a few minutes short of three hours with no intermission. Randall and I had, of course, read the whole thing, but still the progress of the action seemed quite coherent and I think the audience followed it quite well. But, boy, what a panorama. The players choreographed sword play in slow motion before the performance, which turned out to be a pretty good preview, in that there must have been fifteen sword fights or battles, and Ernst's impression of a lot of people standing around shouting was punctuated by the clash of steel. Yorks were in purple, Lancasters in red (and Warwick half and half). Every actor, of course, had multiple parts, though Henry (Dan Wilson) and Margaret (Erin Day) only had a little ensemble duty.

The company was quite good, all speaking the lines well (I didn't miss a single line, though Henry spoke with a high-speed nervousness that Randall thought was an intentional display of his youth at the beginning, until it turned out he was just as nervous two hours later). The actress who played the Cardinal of Winchester (Courtney Esser), et al, was one of those young actors (about 22) caricaturing a doddering old man, but the rest all seemed to be on the same page in style and talent. The director understandably tried for a little comic relief. For instance, the pirates who capture and kill Suffolk belonged to the "aaarg, matey" school of seamen, and Jack Cade's part was narrowed to the bombastic megalomaniac bits. There were some fine light touches, as in the reconciliation of Warwick (Ryan Higgins) and Queen Margaret in France after the Lady Bona shame, in which the actors' expressions perfectly contradicted their lines and hand-kissing actions.

The play(s): The prologue was taken from Henry V, "O for a Muse of fire..." and its epilogue "Henry the Sixt...whose state so many had the managing, That they lost France and made his England bleed." There is a whole lot of shouting, a whole lot of fighting, a whole lot of killing going on (in al fresco theatre, the bodies would rise and stroll off the stage quietly as the action was blocked elsewhere, sometimes holding their swords in front of them so the hilt made a cross). Joan (Meredith Armstrong) is confident and assertive, and here her "pleading of the belly" did not seem as much a character reversal as consistent assertive strategy, not cowardice or whining. Armstrong, after lord-on-the-left ensemble work, came back as a fiercely articulate Prince Edward, who is butchered for his defiance, stronger than I had seen him on the page.

Talbot (Drew Dyson Hobson) was heroic more by assertion than action, partly because his part was necessarily cut. Humphrey of Gloucester (Therese Diekhans) gave me the dignity and honor as well as the disgust with the political schemers which we noted in our postings on Part 2. Suffolk (Sam Hagen) was smug, less a machiavel than a nasty guy. Dan Wilson, a young actor perhaps newly out of high school was cast as Henry, and except for the speed of his delivery, this was effective. Clean-shaven, fair of face, robed in a gray gown, he was physically different from all the warriors swirling around him.

In one scene, Part 3, II.v ("So many hours must I tend my flock"), Wilson was center stage speaking of the burden of kingship, while around him there was a circle of stop-action sword play (the adaptor cut the father who kills his son/ son who...) The most powerful character was Richard Plantagenet (Johnny Patchamatla), the Duke of York, olive skin, shoulder-length black hair, strong voice; his soliloquies addressed directly to the audience were quite clearly Shakespeare underscoring the inner political understanding of his character. Erin Day's Margaret was very strong, complex, subtle, except for chewing up the scenery (had there been any scenery) in her farewell to Suffolk. When the Lancasters are circled to kill York, on his knees with wounds, her scorn ("She wolf of France"), laughter, and fatal blow were chilling, and seemed the crescendo of the three plays, though it is only Part 3, I.iv.

After that, the action is balanced between Edward (Chad Evans) and Henry, and Edward, despite the seduction of Lady Gray, doesn't seem well-developed. By this time Clifford is just another noble with blood dripping from his teeth, Warwick is really undercut as "kingmaker" because his side-switching is so abrupt, and poor little Henry is captured by deer hunters. That really leaves the emergence of Richard of Gloucester, as Mike said in his very first posting.

In this production Richard was played with a limp, but no hump, by an actress, Sarah Lesley, more slight of build than her brothers, Edward and George. (I'm afraid her gender sort of robbed the spice out of the line "And thou misshapen Dick".) But I felt this adaptation focused the emergence of Richard of York through a maelstrom of civil unrest, with the denouement of Richard of Gloucester emerging with a more psychological complexity than his father. To that end, this play did not end with King Edward IV's "For here I hope begins our lasting joy," but after the stage empties, Richard stepping forward, sneering "Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this son of York...".


Editor's note: This post has been retroactively identified as a "Performance Log." Pictures and actors names have been added (08/2008).

Photos: (top) Terence Atz, Dan Wilson as King Henry VI, Courtney Esser as Winchester, and Drew Dyson Hobson in GreenStage's Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 & 3; (middle) Chad Evans as Edward, Sarah Lesley as Richard, and Terence Atz as Clarence. Photos by Ken Holmes.

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