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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Pacific Repertory Theatre Royal Blood Series continues with Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III

Also see Richard's review of Coup de Graae

The Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel is presenting an ambitious program of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Each season, starting with Richard II, Stephen Moorer’s company has presented two full length historical plays under the Royal Blood Series. This season they are presenting the full Part 3 of Henry VI and the fall of the Plantagenet reign with Richard III. Mr. Moorer, who has directed both of these productions, has assembled a brilliant cast of actors from both San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles.

Both plays are presented in the small 88 seat house where the audience sits on all sides of the theatre while the actors portray the characters in the center in full costume with medieval props. This is classic Shakespeare with most of the text in place. The whole cast projects individually and cleanly.

HENRY VI - PART 3

Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 is rarely presented and many companies combine parts 2 and 3 together, as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is doing this year. This three hour play is rightly called The Chaos, with the horrors piled on horrors as kings and nobles fight it out in the War of the Roses. Part 3 has the crown going from the House of Lancaster to the House of York and back again until Edward IV of York finally prevails as King of England. Battles are fought, fathers kill sons, sons kill father, brother kills brother. There is a lot of gore in this part and it will help if you read a synopsis of parts 1 and 2 of Henry VI (which were presented last year in this theatre).

Henry VI, Part 3 prepares the groundwork for one of the Bard’s best known and most controversial plays, Richard III, for in this play we are introduced to the scheming of one of the most evil persons in Shakespeare drama. We also see a pathetic King Henry VI who only wants to be left alone with his religious studies. We see how the strong and brisk Queen Margaret rules him with her iron fist. The Pac Rep Company has many strong scenes that become indelible, such as when Lord Clifford (Nick Tagas) slowly tortures the young boy Ruthland (Clayton McCurdy). Tagas (San Francisco actor, two BATCC nominations and several Dean Goodman awards) is wonderfully frightening in his portrayal of Clifford, as he goes about killing left and right. Nick plays the role like today’s psychopath. McCurdy, who is still in his early teens, shows great professionalism in the role of the young son of York.

David Mendelsohn (ACT’s Enrico IV, The Misanthrope and Three Penny Opera) gives a smooth performance as Henry VI. His characterization of a king going into melancholy madness makes him both logical and sympathetic. Emily Jordan (San Francisco actress recently in The Miser) gives a superb performance as the warrior queen Margaret of Anjou, the steely and villainous vanquished Queen to Henry.

We are introduced to the slimy Richard III, brilliantly played by Tim P. Hart (appeared in many productions here including a BATCC award for The Mikado). In this production we hear the famous speech that has become an audition piece for actors seeking Shakespeare roles with the famous lines “Since the heavens have shaped my body so/ Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it.” Some companies have incorporated this long solo speech into Richard III to make him more infamous.

The battle scenes are very well done, first in a slow motion sequence that is choreographic, and finally with just two going at it with swords and shields.

Every player in this cast is excellent. Outstanding are Travis Brazil as Edward IV; Justin Gordon as George, the Duke of Clarence; Douglas Ambort as Warwick; Christopher Hart as Hastings; Jeff Hudelson as Exeter and MaryAnn Schaupp-Rousseau as Lady Grey. Kevin Black provides comic relief as the wonderful, somewhat fey, King Louis XI, of France.

Needless to say, Shakespeare wrote this play from an anti-Yorkist standpoint since he was the favorite playwright of the Tudor Queen Elizabeth. This was good propaganda as the Tudors occupied the throne of England. One can see how Richard III is now being treated particularly unfairly, even to the point that Richard in true history would have been just a mere lad during Henry VI's reign.


RICHARD III

First, let me state that I belong to the Richard III society and I am what is called a Ricardian. We believe that, although this is one of the Bard’s greatest plays, Richard is treated most unfairly since he never had crock on his back, his foot was never misshapen and he was actually one of England’s better kings even though he reign only several years. He was overthrown by a Tudor who had a tenuous right to the throne of England. James Monroe, PhD., a Ricardian, says “ ... the dramatic art of this play is so powerful that, through it, history and anti-history has reached a synthesis.”

Most of the cast repeat their roles and the center of attention is now the galvanizing Tim Hart as Richard III. He plays Richard with a sparkle in his eye and a relationship with the audience which diminishes the comic book evil of some of the Richards I have seen. Hart paradoxically makes the character more frightening because he has become more human. For much of the play, Hart walks the stage with his left arm limp at his side and it looks like he has a contraption in which it appears his leg is encased. Yet he is ambidextrous as he fights, bows and even attempts rape on the widow Lady Anne. His scene with Lord Buckingham (played exceptionally well by Michael D. Jacobs) demanding his rightful due in sporting Richard is well done. The ghost of the people Richard killed to gain the thrown is a highlight of this compact three hour production.

Once again, it is pure propaganda on the part of the Tudors when Henry Earl of Richmond, who later becomes the first Tudor king Henry VII, gives out with those flowery speeches which are beautifully spoken by Travis Brazil.

Sarah Malkin as Lady Anne, Emily Jordan as Margaret and Fredi Olster (formerly with ACT and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as the mother of Edward IV have a brilliant scene as they chastise the evil Richard and the harm he has done to each of them. The whole cast works like clockwork to make this an excellent Richard III. Stephen Moorer's direction is first class as he makes both productions exciting human dramas.

Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III are playing in repertory at the Circle Theatre, Casanova Street, Carmel, California through October 16 and 17th, respectively.

The company will present the West Coast premiere of Elizabeth Rex September 9 through September 26 and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Outdoor Forest Theatre September 30 through October 17. For ticket call 831-622-0100 or visit www.pacrep.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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