DramaNew YorkOff-BroadwayReviewShakespeare

Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III – 124 Bank Street Theater, New York

Writer: William Shakespeare

Adaptor: Austin Pendleton

Director: Austin Pendleton & Peter Bloch

Reviewer: Robert Price

Come to hear a play and you will not be disappointed. Semi-scholars of The Bard will be thrilled to listen carefully to the rarely read origins of Richard III that lie in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 3. His kid brother Rutland is murdered, and Richard’s father is taunted with the child’s blood before Margaret, the French Queen and wife to Henry VI, slits his throat. Margaret is, of course, avenging her child, young Edward, who was slain by Richard and his brothers. Observe the famed Austin Pendleton recite Henry VI’s ruminations (he is stabbed mid-speech) and you will enter the second play with much-needed context. It is Henry’s body that lies at the feet of Lady Ann, whom Richard woos. Young Edward was her husband, and Margaret, mad with grief, her mother-in-law. It is unfortunate that this production is so underwhelming.

A couple of bloody banners adorn the upstage and two daggers hang against the black box theatre’s walls.  The cast enters in their closets’ best blacks and arrange themselves in various formations. They speak the words trippingly on the tongue for a whopping three hours. Actors shift weight foot to foot while they work their way through uncut speeches, occasionally bumping into folding chairs. One gets the sense that this cast of eleven men and four women may be drawn partly from Pendleton’s students. Matt de Rogatis is a despicable Richard. In an athletic feat of endless text, he transforms from an ambitious teenager to a screaming child. Greg Pragel makes good use of the bureaucratic Buckingham. Johanna Leister could run for president with the impossible patience she exhibits as Queen Elizabeth. Pete McElligot delivers Clarence’s dream speech with an unexpected, musical clarity. A lack of physical life plagues the production, leaving little reason for characters to stand and listen to each other. Scenes that would be absurdist are uncomfortably absurd. A dismal absence of any sound design leaves no respite for the captive audience.

Richard III behaves very badly, and women grieve. His punishment is to have a bad dream and then die in battle. He makes an audience of us in order to pity him and thus celebrate his triumphs. The play’s relevance is thoroughly obvious, but it feels totally obsolete. Half the matinee crowd will stand to applaud anyway.

Runs until: 19 August 2018 | Image: Chris Loupos

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The American team is under the editorship of Adrienne Sowers. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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