Henry VI, Part 3
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Neill Robertson
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Although it is filled with plenty of sound, fury, and violence, Neill Robertson’s staging of Henry VI, Part 3 finds its finer qualities in the quiet moments. This production at Walden Theatre/ Blue Apple Players finishes out the 2016 Young American Shakespeare Festival and productions of all three of the Henry VI trilogy.
As Part 3 opens, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (Alontay Maddox), has claimed the throne and Henry (Zoe Greenwald) has fled with his wife, Margaret of Anjou (Bailey Lomax) and young son Edward (Natalie Koch). Overwhelmed by all of the bloodshed, Henry is losing his grip on sanity, so his Queen leads his armies in the struggle with the House of York, taking back the crown and losing it again. Whatever its basis in history, this chapter in the War of the Roses offers one too many exchanges of power for my taste, but it balances the back and forth with humor, humanity, and a potent dose of villainy.
The villainy, and no small portion of the laughs, comes from the rise of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the misshapen figure destined to be the infamous Richard III. Will DeVary attacks the role with relish, and director Robertson does something intriguing by guiding the performance into a deliberate overemphasis on the cliché of the twisted body expressing the twisted soul. Yet, in two moments where Richard is entirely alone onstage, with no “audience”, the physical deformities become much less pronounced, indicating that the cliché is itself a performance, and that Richard is most certainly playing the long game.
This production has many such touches, as when Edward, Richard’s brother, has supplanted the Duke of York. Robertson has York walk across the stage, with deliberate pace, until he is eyeball-to-eyeball with Edward, his lines spoken in a hushed whisper barely audible to the audience. It pulled us to the edge of our seats and drew us into the conflict between House Lancaster and House York on a much more personal level.
Robertson draws strong, insightful work from most of his principals. Besides DeVary’s risk-taking and forceful turn as Richard, Rebecca Willenbrink makes for a complex and compelling Edward, and Anne Shook brings her customary authority and intelligence to Earl of Warwick, managing the sense of the character’s shifts in allegiance with clarity. Frances Rippy also shows smarts and the strain of independence that marks Lady Elizabeth Grey, who Edward chooses for his Queen, a bright and lively talent making the most of a smaller role.
On the Lancaster side, Zoe Greenwald elicits sympathy for a Henry VI lost in the fog, an innocent struggling to comprehend the machinations of those around him. When, after one of the many twists in the plot, Edward and his cohorts set him upon, Henry wastes not a moment in offering up the crown, and Greenwald invests the gesture with a heartbreaking mix of eagerness and desperation. Bailey Lomax plays Margaret with the tenacity of a warrior and a politician, making no bones about wearing the armor and leading men into battle. There may not be lot of subtlety in Lomax’s performance, but there is plenty of steel.
After intermission, the play loses momentum slightly while some of the humor seems to let the air out of the balloon a bit, dissipating the tension that had kept the first half tight as a drum. In truth, much of the comedic “business” in this stretch seemed forced and distracting. But some brief combat sequences and the ruthlessness of Richard kick things back on track so that the play ends by finally resolving Henry’s fate, while also making us desirous to move right on to Richard III. With DeVary still only a sophomore, perhaps a new production of that history in about two seasons would bring him back to the role?
All three productions have used the dynamic opposing edifices separated by a chessboard stage designed by Clay Marshall and Eliot Cornett, and Lindsay Chamberlin’s costumes established their own identity while functioning within an overall design concept that applied to all of the plays.
Mr. Robertson uses more music than usual. Lifting liberally from film scores to underscore his cinematic staging. A few cues were distracting, but mostly it works well to reinforce tone and atmosphere.
This Henry VI, Part 3 is executed with great clarity and intention, and I was never for a moment lost or in need of a synopsis. It is perhaps helpful that this chapter is mostly all climaxes, having left the bulk of the set-up in the first two sagas. Action and turnabout of fortunes abound, and the bloody, bloody War of the Roses comes to an end. Or does it?
In this age of binge-watching entire television seasons on a single day, Walden/Blue Apple, newly christened as The Commonwealth Theatre Center, will offer all three Henry’s in sequence this Sunday, May 22, beginning at 12:30pm, ending the Young American Shakespeare Festival and the 2015-16 season.
Henry VI, Part 3
Part of the Young American Shakespeare Festival
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3
May 12 @ 7:30 May 13 @ 7:30 May 14 @ 2:00
May 14 @ 7:30 May 15 @ 2:00 May 15 @ 7:30
May 17 @ 7:30 May 18 @ 7:30 May 19 @ 7:30
May 21 @ 7:30 May 21 @ 2:00 May 20 @ 7:30
May 22 @ 12:30 May 22 @ 4:00 May 22 @ 8:00
Tickets – Evenings:
$15 adult, $10 student/senior
Matinees (Saturdays and Sundays):
$10 adult, $8 student/senior
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
Walden Theatre/Blue Apple Players
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.