March 3, 2011
The Wars of the Roses have been fought on the stage of the Blackfriars Playhouse since February 2009, with each Actors' Renaissance Season bringing us another installment in Shakespeare's epic, bloody history of the dynastic civil wars of 1455-85.
This is particularly unfortunate because, in "Henry VI Part 3" — which is now on tap at the Blackfriars — we are taunted with the emergence of Richard as one of Shakespeare's most delectably malicious villains. Although we loathe him and even fear him, we want to see more of this sinister, Machiavellian man who intends to claw his way to power.
We don't want to wait another year for "Richard III."
This is due in no small measure to American Shakespeare Center veteran Benjamin Curns, whose depiction of the malformed and malevolent Richard "Crookback" is hypnotizing in much the way that a viper is "charming" toward its hapless prey. He lures us within Richard's menacing embrace where we squirm, knowing horrible things are going to occur, but are unable to resist the Mephistophelean gazes and soft pronouncements of evil intent:
"Why," Curns purrs at one point, "I can smile, and murder whiles I smile."
Curns is not alone in making "Henry VI Part 3" a scintillating study in psychopathic revenge and bloodlust. Sarah Fallon reprises her "Part 2" role as Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI — described as the "she-wolf of France" by the man she brutally helps murder. Fallon's Margaret and Curns' Richard dominate this play just as thoroughly as Joan of Arc did in "Part 1" and rebellious Jack Cade did in "Part 2."
But I must not omit the dark and powerful performances of Chris Johnston as the homicidal Lord Clifford, John Harrell as throne-snatcher Edward IV and, of course, Gregory Jon Phelps as Henry VI.
As enjoyable as the murder, treachery, vengeance seeking and carnage of war are in this play, theater-goers may have a tough time keeping track of who's who. There's Henry VI and there's Henry, Earl of Richmond. There's Prince Edward, and there's Edward, York's son, who becomes King Edward IV. There's Richard Plantagenet and there's Richard "Crookback," who later becomes Duke of Gloucester.
My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the ride; the program is helpful, sort of, but it's actually easier to pick up who's who and what's what by simply watching and absorbing than it is to glue your eyes to the program and try to figure out the demographics.
The cast of "Henry VI Part 3" also comprises Miriam Donald, Allison Glenzer, Paul Jannise and Patrick Midgley.
For best seats order Henry VI, Part 3 tickets now.
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