Having staged over half of Shakespeare’s plays in 11 seasons, Bare Theatre continues its survey, adapting the three Henry VI plays into one 90-minute presentation. While not for Shakespeare scholars or completists, the production is one of Bare Theatre’s most entertaining, maximizing the company’s well-established qualities and minimizing the liabilities that come with outdoor stagings.
Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3” cover most of England’s War of the Roses, a battle for the throne between the houses of Lancaster (Henry VI’s side) and York in the mid-1400s. Shakespeare’s version of that complicated history, with dozens of leading participants, is too detailed to address here. The compact adaptation by director Lucinda Danner Gainey makes it even more necessary to be familiar with events beforehand. (There’s also a succinct scene-by-scene synopsis in the program.)
But taken as an action-packed “Game of Thrones”-style tale – echoed in the imaginative, leather-and-chain costumes (Katie Moorehead) and arresting, tribal make-up (Lachlan Watson) – “Henry VI: The War of the Roses” is constantly engaging.
Against a backdrop of rubble and detritus, the characters watch from the sidelines, entering the action when called for and providing rhythmic drumming for ceremonies and battles. Fight choreographers Heather J. Strickland and Jason Bailey make the frequent clashes realistic enough, especially the death blows to major characters, while keeping the battles tightly controlled. Director Gainey adds a clever touch by having veiled spirits of the earlier dead awaken the lifeless bodies and lead them offstage.
The casting, as usual, is committed to diversity, particularly with women playing male roles. That adds a contemporary slant to Maxine Eloi’s lovestruck Earl of Suffolk, who falls for French princess Margaret (the ever dependable Rebecca Blum), who becomes Henry VI’s wife. Their near-torrid scenes together energize the somewhat slow opening section. Other male roles, especially Katie Barrett’s Clifford and Kimmy Fiorentino’s Prince Edward, are equally well taken.
Sean A. Brosnahan makes a gruff, belligerent Duke of York, Benjamin Tarlton a potent King Edward, Seth Blum a wily Richard III and 15-year-old Lachlan Watson an impressively subtle Henry VI.
Sound issues have improved from previous outings, despite the occasional glitch, allowing the company’s high standards of enunciation and textual understanding to shine through. The production is easily recommended for a warm summer evening, enhanced by food trucks and a relaxed atmosphere.
What: “Henry VI: The War of the Roses” presented by Bare Theatre and Raleigh Little Theatre
Where: Stephenson Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 4-5; 5 p.m. Aug. 6-7
Info: 919-821- 3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org