Shaquille Towns, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, & Mollie Murk in Henry Vi: The Wars of the Roses. Photo: Bill Brymer.
Henry VI: The Wars Of The Roses
Adapted by Stephanie Shine from Henry VI, Part 1, 2, & 3
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Amy Attaway
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Of all of William Shakespeare’s History plays about Kings named Henry, Henry IV, and V are produced the most. The popularity of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 arguably hinge largely on the character of Falstaff, and Henry V is often framed as a heroic tale about a young, valorous monarch – always well-received.
Yet productions of the three plays that chart the reign of Henry VI are uncommon, despite the presence of the iconic Joan of Arc (Mollie Murk) and Richard of York (Neill Robertson) in the first stages of his rise to power. I saw all three produced at Commonwealth Theatre Center’s Young American Shakespeare Festival in one year and enjoyed them very much, so any hesitancy seems unearned.
So it is difficult to be reconciled with Stephanie Shine’s severe abridgment into 2+ hours. Joan of Arc suffers the most, being reduced to a few blunt scenes that shortchange the scope of Joan’s story. And the first half struggles with the ensemble running through a dizzying array of characters that promotes confusion for the audience. Director Amy Attaway slyly lets us in on the joke with a nod and a wink.
As the narrative moves forward, it gains focus and feels like its own play and less an adaptation. The second act really gels as Jack Cade’s challenge is made manifest by Neill Robertson before giving way to the rise of the misshapen Richard who exploits his brother Edwards’s ascension to the throne with Machiavellian delight.
That meta quality is also represented in the design work, with Eric Allgeier’s set design primarily a large tree/family tree that drops down panels displaying the “White” and “Red” rose lineage. At one point David Hussey as Prince Edward outlines his claim to the royal seat using these panels and it was both a good laugh and an acknowledgment of the complexity of the plot. Through the course of the action, the crown finds itself on more heads than in seven seasons of Game of Thrones.
It’s a fine ensemble of actors swapping tunics on a dime. That Abigail Bailey Maupin provides good value is no surprise, and her Queen Margaret is, next to Lady Macbeth, perhaps the most ruthless woman in Shakespeare. She is also a rare woman of action in his work, and all the more striking for being short-changed on the warrior Joan. And despite the limitations, or perhaps because of them, Mollie Murk delivers a bold, full-throated Joan of Arc full of bravado. Personally, I would love to see Murk have a shot at Joan in a full production of Part 1. Jon Huffman gets the most time with Edward of York, the last to hold the throne, but his best scene may be surrendering as Exeter, sadly relinquishing his staff and his life. David Hussey moves around the stage with easy authority and the contrast in his turns as the experienced, confident Duke of York and the callow, naive Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son, helps give the production heft.
Shaquille Towns is the young and naive Henry Vi, trading on the reputation of his celebrated father and more manipulated than manipulating, Gregory Maupin is uniformly excellent as Suffolk and Birmingham, and BeeBee Patillo is a coiled spring with fierce eyes as Somerset and others.
Finally, after a hiatus from the stage, Neill Robertson returns as a boisterous and rabble-rousing Jack Cade but, more importantly, the White Rose who will become King in Richard III, a play scheduled for the Festival in the Park this summer. Watching Robertson so adeptly spin the silky menace of the character sporting a Severus Snape wig is an enticing preview of what is to come.
Henry VI is the latest chapter in Attaway’s year’s long examination of the histories, her “Game of Kings” series, and it feels something of a privilege to be provided the opportunity to track these plays under her stewardship, and a further validation of Kentucky Shakespeare’s mission.
Featuring Jon Huffmans, David Hussey, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Mollie Murk, BeeBee Patillo, Neill Robertson, & Shaquille Towns
Henry VI: The Wars Of The Roses
March 30 – April 16 @ 7:30 pm
616 Myrtle Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.