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Henry VI parts 1, 2, 3

a Historical Drama
CATEGORY :
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3190

SHOWING : November 07, 2008 - November 30, 2008

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Henry VI part 1
November 7-9 & Nov 28
In the aftermath of Henry V’s death, the tension between England and France grows. Joan of Arc (written more as a witch and a seductress than as the noble heroine we know) defeats the English army only to be captured and burned at the stake, the War of the Roses starts and the young and gentle Henry VI meets the She-Wolf of France, Margaret of Anjou.

Henry VI part 2
November 14-16 & November 29
Rebels, Pirates and Demons, oh my! As the War of the Roses continues to blossom, Margaret’s power grows, Henry becomes more like a monk and less like a King and York does all he can to rise to power and take the throne. With him he brings his two sons Edward and Richard (the future evil King Richard III of England).

Henry VI part 3
November 21-23 & November 30
The battle for the throne continues in almost a masque of Kings: from Henry to York to Edward then back to Henry and back to Edward again. Containing some of the bloodiest and most heart-rending scenes of all Shakespeare, as well as his first foray into writing comedic scenes, this play is a top-notch preparation for Shakespeare’s next play in the series, Richard III.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Jeff Watkins
Trumpet David Rood
Bishop of Winchester Tony Brown
Cardinal Beaufort Tony Brown
Earl of Oxford Tony Brown
Sir John Mortimer Tony Brown
Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester Heidi Cline
Lady Grey Heidi Cline
Margaret, daughter to Reignier, later He Laura Cole
Duke of Bedford John Curran
Earl of Salisbury John Curran
Duke of Norfolk John Curran
Sir William Lucy Nicholas Faircloth
Duke of Buckingham Nicholas Faircloth
George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence Nicholas Faircloth
John Talbot Matt Felten
Vernon Matt Felten
son of the master gunner Matt Felten
Duke of Somerset Matt Felten
Saunders Simpcox Matt Felten
George Bevis Matt Felten
Earl of Westmoreland Matt Felten
Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland Matt Felten
Charles, Dauphin, later King of France Paul Hester
Porter Paul Hester
Lord Say Paul Hester
John Southwell Paul Hester
Earl of Northumberland Paul Hester
Lord Hastings Paul Hester
Mayor of London Andrew Houchins
Duke of Burgundy Andrew Houchins
Roger Bolingbroke Andrew Houchins
Jack Cade Andrew Houchins
Louis XI, King of France Andrew Houchins
Duke of Exeter Andrew Houchins
Sir John Fastolfe Joshua Lee Jones
Woodville, Lieutenant of the Tower Joshua Lee Jones
Legate Joshua Lee Jones
Young Clifford Joshua Lee Jones
Shipmaster Joshua Lee Jones
Thomas Horner Joshua Lee Jones
Smith, the weaver Joshua Lee Jones
Lord Rivers Joshua Lee Jones
Sir John Somerville Joshua Lee Jones
Duke of Gloucester Doug Kaye
Lord Clifford Doug Kaye
William Stafford Doug Kaye
Marquess of Montague Doug Kaye
Duke of Alencon Bryan Lee
Peter, Horner's man Bryan Lee
Clerk of Chatham Bryan Lee
Wife to Simpcox Bryan Lee
Edward, Prince of Wales Bryan Lee
Lady Bona Maria Liatis
Earl of Suffolk J.C. Long
Sir William Glansdale Mike Niedzwiecki
Bastard of Orleans Mike Niedzwiecki
Mayor of St. Alban Mike Niedzwiecki
Dick, the butcher Mike Niedzwiecki
Sir John Montgomery Mike Niedzwiecki
Basset Matt Nitchie
Reignier, Duke of Anjou Matt Nitchie
Edward Plantagenet Matt Nitchie
John Holland Matt Nitchie
King Henry VI Daniel Parvis
Lawyer Daniel Parvis
Richard Plantagenet (York) Maurice Ralston
Joan La Pucelle Mary Ruth Ralston
Master Gunner of Orleans Maurice Ralston
Sir Humphrey Stafford Maurice Ralston
Vaux Mary Ruth Ralston
Margery Jourdain Mary Ruth Ralston
Henry, Earl of Richmond Mary Ruth Ralston
Richard Plantagenet Drew Reeves
Lord Talbot Drew Reeves
Joan's father Drew Reeves
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March Drew Reeves
Walter Whitmore, a pirate Drew Reeves
John Hume Drew Reeves
Countess of Auvergne Mary Saville
Earl of Warwick Clarke Weigle
General of the French forces Clarke Weigle
Ambassador Clarke Weigle
Lord Scales Clarke Weigle
Earl of Pembroke Clarke Weigle
Mayor of York Clarke Weigle
Duke of Exeter Troy Willis
Earl of Salisbury Troy Willis
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick Troy Willis
Sawyer Troy Willis
Earl of Somerset Jacob York
Alexander Iden Jacob York
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Epic in Scope; Epic in Achievement
by Dedalus
Monday, December 8, 2008
4.5
11/7/2008 HENRY VI, PART 1

CHARACTERS AND CHOICES AND CONSISTENCIES

***½

Make no mistake about it – to follow along the convoluted history of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 1,” you need a scorecard. Not only do the characters seldom address each other by name, but the names tend to drift depending on the occasion (friendly casual settings call for given names, formal and heated settings call for titles). The program lists 39 named characters with more than another dozen listed in groups. Most of the actors play more than one role.

One of the singular achievements of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s production is that the plot is (fairly) easy to follow in spite of all this. I have some comments about some of the choices made, as well as some inconsistencies arising from those choices, but let me set the stage (as it were) by recounting the praise that is due.

First, to recap the story – Henry V has died leaving an infant son. In France, the formerly subjugated Dauphin had crowned himself Charles VII, and, with the help of Joan “La Pucelle,” is slowly reclaiming for France all the territories won a generation earlier by the English at Agincourt. Political intrigues in England between various factions trying to control the young king undercut the efforts of the noble Lord Talbot on the ground in France, and, although Joan is ultimately defeated and executed, the politicians call the outcome, and Henry prepares to receive his future wife.

The producers have greatly helped our understanding by including a summary of the plot, a lobby graph depicting the tangled connections of the ruling Plantagenet family (**), and a scorecard of the competing French and English players. Hopefully, future chapters in this saga will delineate the feuding Lancaster (“Red Rose”) and York (“White Rose”) factions. A little knowledge of history may impede a close following of the story, as, here, Joan is portrayed as the witch she was executed for being, in spite of a lively reading by actress Mary Ruth Ralston as well as some early scenes that hint at the bravery and courage we’ve come to expect from fictional Joan stories. Also, although the historical Henry VI was only nine at the time of these events, Shakespeare has chosen to portray him as a young man, just on the cusp of adulthood.

One of the best choices of this production is the frequent battles and brawls that dominate the story. Extremely well-choreographed and executed, we are never left in doubt as to who represents which faction, even if we’re a tad confused about the exact characters fighting or what they are fighting about. It’s like sitting on the sidelines of a spectacular hockey brawl, where you have no real rooting interest in either side. And, if the last names of Joan portrayer Ms. Ralston and Duke of York portrayer, Tavern regular Maurice Ralston, are indicative of a familiar connection beyond mere coincidence, a lot of amusing (and irrelevant) overtones can be read into their final, brutal, no-holds-barred (no-holes-Bard, if you’ll forgive a pun-ic digression) battle.

The performances that really stood out for me were both Ralstons, Doug Kaye’s dour Humphrey (Duke of Gloucester), Tony Brown’s amusingly unctuous Bishop of Winchester (surely a script characterization of Protestant Tudor dislike of the Catholic hierarchy), Daniel Parvis’ quietly weak-willed Henry (who is not even seen until Act III, and, who occasionally shows a strength hinting at the king he could have been), and J.C. Long’s late-in-the-play appearance as the duplicitous Earl of Suffolk. Although there are no bad performances here, I would have preferred more individualistic Earls of Warwick and Somerset – both characters fade into the hazy background more than they should, though, I have hopes that Warwick will come to the fore as his role becomes more central to the changing fortunes of Henry and York.

My biggest complaint is with the almost-French accents used by some of the French characters. First, trying to speak Shakespearean verse through a French accent doubles the difficulty in our comprehension (go no further then Irene Jacob’s Desdemona in the Laurence Fishburne “Othello” movie for strong evidence). In fact, none of these characters would be speaking any recognizable French or English, so giving them accents is a modern contrivance that actually undercuts the flow of the story. If it were done to better differentiate the factions, then it should have been “across the board” – it just doesn’t make sense for the Dauphin to speaking perfect English but for his fey retainer to be hiding behind a bad dialect. IMHO, the costuming scheme did most of the “heavy-lifting” in letting us know which side is which, so the dialects seemed to me to be an ill-considered contrivance. The whole conceit also added a few moments of unintentional laughter at a few wrong places.

Another choice that jarred for me was the modern staging of Joan’s “séance” scene. The Tavern has built a reputation on presenting the plays in as close to an Elizabethan style as possible, and the addition of stage fog and bottom-lit trapdoors, though affective in and of itself, seemed “out of synch” with the rest of the production. However, since the scene was so well done, I suppose this is a quibble that can be easily forgiven.

So, to summarize, “Henry VI, Part 1” is a good start to the series. It has a strong “cliff-hanger” ending that made me look forward to next week’s chapter. It is filled with the sort of well-rehearsed, razzle-dazzle fight choreography I’ve come to expect from the Tavern’s too-infrequent forays into the History plays. The regular members of the troupe deliver their usual crisp and coherent characterizations, and the new people show a high degree of promise. And, in Mary Ruth Ralston’s Joan, we have a strong performance by a young actress who obviously has an impressive career before her.

And, since the remainder of the series focuses more on internal English squabbles, I daresay the problem I had with the dialects will soon become a non-issue.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


** As a recommendation, may I suggest the tangled connecting lines be avoided – exact familiar relationships aren’t, in my opinion, as necessary to understanding the plays as is simply knowing who’s who, and which faction they’re part of.

===================================================

11/14/2008 HENRY VI, PART 2

FRAMING THE STORY

****½

Reviewing the “middle part” of a trilogy is, by definition, redundant. I’ve already discussed the historical background of the Henry VI story, the Tudor filters through which Shakespeare presents the story, and the actors who are bringing the story to life. To make matters more difficult, you and I both know there’s another part to come, another review to come.

So, let me frame this review by first telling you it improves a bit on Part One. The fights are fewer, but more emotionally involving – it’s clearer now who’s fighting and why and we have a greater emotional stake in the outcome. The French accents I complained about last week have disappeared entirely. The addition of the Jack Cade subplot is a welcome comic relief at just the right moment. And, the long evening moves at such a fast pace, I was actually surprised when I saw how late it was at the end.

The story is a transition piece, charting the rise of Queen Margaret and the Duke of York and the fall of Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester. The indecisiveness of King Henry gives the squabbling lords (and ladies) free rein to indulge in their petty ambitions and schemes. The very real ambition of Humphrey’s Duchess is used as an instrument to bring him down. The historically anachronistic Jack Cade Rebellion (it was actually almost fifty years earlier) is used to give York his army and his momentum. Heroes and Villains all meet bad ends, and the play ends with a dandy of a cliffhanger – who will be the first to get back to London, York or Henry?

As in Part One, Maurice Ralston gives us a compelling Duke of York and Doug Kaye a convincing Duke of Gloucester. It was good to see director Heidi Cline as the Duchess of Gloucester channeling her inner Diva – all prickly pride and wounded dignity, her raw ambition flies from the stage as if shot from a longbow, and, for my tastes, she left the story far too soon. Laura Cole comes into her own here as Queen Margaret. Frustrated with the indecision of her husband, she takes on the role of ruler as if she were born to it. Yes, we may question her means (and her discretion in lovers), but, the truth is, Ms. Cole shows us a complex and intriguing character who is far removed from the cardboard villainess a quick read of the script would indicate. J.C. Long continues his strong presence as the Earl of Suffolk (now a Duke), and, although Warwick and Somerset are still a bit bland and background for my taste, they are also a few steps ahead of where they were in Part One. This time, too, Daniel Parvis’ King Henry assumes a more background role, but he is nonetheless compelling, and even sympathetic.

For my money, though, it is Andrew Houchins as Jack Cade who is a real standout here. Without overshadowing the principals, he brings us a character who brings us comic relief based on an eccentric flair for the absurd, rather than on milked one-liners, comic bits, and quick laughs. It is his smile, his story that drives the second part of this play and makes us realize how quickly he makes the evening pass. (Listen for one of his cohorts giving Shakespeare’s classic “Lawyer Joke.”)

This time, the fights are equally well-choreographed and energetically executed. We see a handful of severed heads, another witch’s séance, scenes of grand poetry delivered with grand passion, few (if any) slow parts, and even a pirate scene. As if he read my review of Part One, Shakespeare opens the play with Henry addressing all the Lords by name, followed shortly by Humphrey addressing all the Lords by name. There is no need of a scorecard this time to know who is who. York’s claim to the throne is clarified for those of us slow on the uptake, red rose and white rose loyalties are quickly and clearly sketched out.

A lot of story is given us covering a lot of history. I may have an edge because I know what’s coming next, but, for me, this play was an almost perfect example of the sort of entertainment the Shakespeare Tavern does best – it brings history alive through the words and characters of Shakespeare, keeping the many plotlines clarified to make the long running time zip by, and gives equal weight to the fights and to the flights of poetic passion. And, depressingly contemporary political parallels can be draw between how these characters frame political messages and use tenuous facts and rumors to substantiate political propaganda.

And, for good measure, you can’t go wrong with a pirate scene and few severed heads!

Onward to Part Three!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

===================================================

11/22/2008 HENRY VI, PART 3

LOVE OF COUNTRY, LOVE OF POWER

****½

In “Henry VI, Part 3” (which could probably also be called “Richard III – The Prequel”), the sons of York grow into adulthood, the War of the Roses grows nastier, the crown changes hands more often than a football in a Bowl Game, everyone gets a grand scene of vengeance or grief or naked ambition, and the parade of severed heads continues with a new generation. More important, choices made “for the good of the country” are usually at odds with personal (and familial) ambitions, and personal glory and power become the endgame for everyone involved.

This production itself is a perfect cap to the trilogy, a long but plot-filled evening full of the powerful poetry and strong characterizations we’ve come to expect . If the anachronisms continue unapologetically (after all, the entire trilogy covers over 40 years in real time, yet none of the characters look older than they were way back in Part One), well, they can be forgiven in the deluge of blood and violence that tell the story. If the intricacies of primogeniture are relatively meaningless to us today, the lure of power and the motivations of overweening ambition are certainly not. In other words, the relative merits of the competing claims to the throne aren’t as important as the lengths to which the characters will go to achieve those claims.

At the start of this play, the forces of the Duke of York have won the field, and York sits on Henry’s throne. In an effort to bring hostilities to a close, Henry negotiates with York a compromise – he will make York his heir if Henry is allowed to rule through the end of his life. But, this does not sit well with Henry’s Queen Margaret, who (correctly) sees it as a disinheritance of her son. Taking to the field, the Queen’s forces defeat York, and the Duke is killed. His sons, with the assistance of Warwick, oust Henry and place the eldest York on the throne as Edward IV. When Edward offends Warwick by marrying Elizabeth Woodville (Lady Grey), Warwick throws his support behind Queen Margaret, and Henry is once again on the throne. The battles and beheadings continue until Margaret’s son has been killed, Warwick has been killed, and Henry has fallen victim to Edward IV’s youngest brother Richard. The play ends with Edward having his brothers kiss his newborn son as a token of allegiance, and with Richard turning to the audience and beginning the next play, “Now is the winter of our discontent …”

In this chapter, Drew Reeves channels his best villainous Richard, Matt Nitchie is a strong (and salacious) Edward IV, and Laura Cole is a dimensional and impressive Margaret. Daniel Parvis continues as the saintly Henry, coming across as a strong ruler in some scenes, as a sensible compromiser in others. It is unfortunate that he does make decisions that, in other times, would be in the best interests of the country, but, since he lives in a time where ambition trumps patriotism, they are the worst possible choices. The genius of this play is that we see all of this at once – his compromise with York does not come across as weak or cowardly, but as the best choice that can be made to ensure peace and a strong England. But the clashing ambitions of Margaret and York just make us shake our heads at his naïveté.

If Maurice Ralston is beginning to lose a little steam as York, he regains it in one of the cruelest death scenes in the series. It is matched nicely by the scene in which all three of his sons take their revenge on the son of Henry and Margaret, And, if Heidi Cline seems slightly miscast as the young widow Lady Grey (later Edward’s queen), she nevertheless shows us a women who, despite her protestations, proves she is well-suited to be the queen.

And, to be sure, my favorite scene in the script has become my favorite scene in the production. In particular John Curran’s “Father who has Killed his Son” cries out with a pain so great it reaches right through us, just as it does Henry. Mr. Parvis’ presentation of Henry’s lament at this woeful consequence of his compromise strike just the right balance between confusion, ill-used intentions, acceptance of his own responsibility, and determination to “make it right.” This scene works in every way.

If this chapter does carry the full weight of its running time (some of the later Warwick scenes came across as redundant and slowly-paced), by the time Mr. Reeves’ Richard takes center stage, the play builds momentum until its inevitable conclusion. Richard’s asides to the audience beautifully foreshadow what is to come, his “playacting” in the final scene show us the joy he takes in his own wickedness, and the decision to end the series with the first line of Richard III all end the series perfectly, all tie together what has gone before and let us know what is to come.

My own fondness for the History of this era may have helped me enjoy this series more than the average play-goer, but the fact remains that this was a well-produced, well-acted and overly ambitious undertaking that succeeds on all levels. I wish it had a longer run so more of you can experience it. Unlike the four-play cycle staged in 2003, this one does not “wind down” too early in the last part, does not overextend the company.

It was an almost-perfect production of three seldom-performed plays that open the doors to history. If the inaccuracies and anachronisms are as deep (and heavy-handed) as a modern filmed historical epic, it still gives us a window into how Shakespeare’s era saw the previous century, how the heirs of Henry VII “demonized” the York faction, how our modern view of Richard was developed. More important, it gives an early example of Shakespeare’s art as it was developing, how, even at this early time, he was a master of plotting, of language, of politics, of character, and of propaganda.

Feel fortunate if you experienced the entire cycle!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

===================================================





[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Henry 6.2 and Henry 6.3 are even better than Part One!
by Ray-and-Pat
Sunday, November 23, 2008
5.0
The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s three-part Henry VI is an amazing piece of work. Not just the plays themselves, which are extraordinary, but the passionate performances of the entire cast – particularly Laura Cole, Maurice Ralston, Drew Reeves, and Doug Kaye among many others – make the experience of this massive cycle something to see, to hear, and to feel. Jeff Watkins and his merry persons have created a don’t miss this event. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The "noble" Duke of York, he killed ten thousand men
by OctoberSundance
Monday, November 17, 2008
4.5
"From Ireland thus comes York to claim his right,
And pluck the crown from feeble Henry’s head." -- Act V, Scene 1

Saying that the New American Shakespeare Tavern is a unique theater is like saying that it rains a lot in the Bard’s adopted hometown of London – it’s a massive understatement. Where else in Atlanta can you eat shepherd’s pie and drink Strongbow cider while watching authentic Elizabethan drama? How many other theater companies completely disregard the fourth wall? As an audience member, when was the last time an actor left the stage to harass you with the severed head of his character’s latest victim? A Tavern show is always a spectacle, whether you’re watching a non-Shakespeare work, a crowd-pleaser like "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" or even one of those dreaded histories . . .

If you missed Part I of "Henry VI," rest assured that seeing it is not imperative to your enjoyment of the equally entertaining Part II. Here’s a big selling point: it has severed heads. And these heads aren’t bargain bin Halloween masks; they’re custom made to fit the likenesses of the characters who lose them. Body parts and stage blood add an element of macabre fun to the production – the audience actually burst into applause after one beheading – but just be aware that a follower of the rabble-rousing Jack Cade (Andrew Houchins) may want you to become acquainted with these battle trophies. A word of warning: sitting in the balcony doesn’t guarantee your safety.

Part II picks up with the not-so-blissfully wedded life of King Henry (Daniel Parvis) and his French wife Margaret (Laura Cole), and the growing color-coded conflict between the Dukes of York (Maurice Ralston) and Somerset (Jacob York). With subplots and tangents galore, it isn’t an easy play to follow, and the Tavern does you no favors by continuing its tradition of assigning multiple roles to each actor, so try to stay on your toes. Basically, the Duke of York wants to overthrow Henry and uses commoner Jack Cade and his gang as pawns. When Cade’s rebellion is crushed, York begins an uprising of his own and ultimately slays both his rival Somerset and the Henry-supporting Lord Clifford (Doug Kaye). Meanwhile, the Duke of Gloucester (Kaye again), Henry’s beloved heir apparent, is murdered under the direction of Margaret’s lover, the Duke of Suffolk (J.C. Long), and the crooked Cardinal Beaufort (Tony Brown). Beaufort confesses his involvement on his deathbed, while Suffolk is banished and eventually – you guessed it – beheaded by pirates.

But even if you overlook a couple of plot points, there’s still plenty to enjoy, including the fact that the cast doesn’t seem to have a weak link. A handful of flubbed lines aside, the performances are solid at worst and spectacular at best, with most of the actors given the opportunity to show an array of emotions. Cole is amazing as the wicked Queen Margaret, although she seems to have abandoned the accent she attempted in Part I, but the true female standout is Heidi Cline. Her Duchess of Gloucester is accused of treason and exiled, and Cline’s gut-wrenching expressions of sorrow and fear on her way to the Isle of Man make for one of the play’s most powerful scenes. Matt Felten continues his unbroken streak of wrapping the audience around his finger – the scam artist Saunders Simpcox is a hoot – but Part II establishes a dark horse in the running for Funniest and Most Versatile Tavern Actor: Bryan Lee. Lee plays a variety of roles here – Peter the seemingly doomed servant, the snooty Clerk of Chatham, an Irish messenger (whose accent is spot-on) and even a woman – and nails every single one.

Jack Cade’s conversation with his cronies about what to do when they seize power is infectiously funny; keep an eye on Tony Brown as a big dumb follower with a permanent Cheshire cat grin. And Suffolk and Margaret’s parting scene is bursting with steamy passion that practically requires a cigarette after viewing. Some audience reactions may be “wrong,” per se (“I am slain!” probably wasn’t intended to be a humorous line), but the cast works its hardest to ensure that every new development is clear and nothing important slips through the cracks. Stay alert and soak up the fine performances and twisted story. And remember: if nothing else, at least it has severed heads. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Roses are red, but can also be white; they tore England apart and led to a
by OctoberSundance
Thursday, November 13, 2008
4.5
"Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me." -- Act II, Scene 4

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That’s an important and all-too-relevant lesson, courtesy of George Santayana, but does history really have to be so boring? Absolutely not, when it’s in the ever-capable hands of the folks at the New American Shakespeare Tavern. Tackling all three parts of the beast known as "Henry VI" couldn’t have been easy, but the enormously talented cast and crew pulls it off with more gusto, not to mention bravado, than Shakespeare usually receives. Between the brilliant acting and the jaw-dropping fight scenes in Part I, you’ll instantly forget that this is the same material your high school history teacher was trying to cram into your head while you slouched in your back-row seat and doodled in the margins of your otherwise blank notebook.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the play opens with a funeral; while a somber tone pervades the trilogy, there’s still plenty of room for humor, with a little of the standard “love at first sight” tossed into the mix. Part I depicts the inception of England’s War of the Roses and tells the story of how the teenage Maid of Orleans led her people to numerous much-needed battle victories before succumbing to her famous fate. A special nod goes out to Fight Director Drew Reeves, whose beautifully choreographed and utterly realistic battle scenes – and there are a lot of them – allow the show to rise head and shoulders (except when heads are being lobbed off) above most other regional theater productions.

Although she is not given top billing, Part I truly belongs to Mary Ruth Ralston. Her portrayal of Joan la Pucelle, better known as Joan of Arc, is more Shakespearean slut than saint (or schizophrenic, depending on who you ask) – a feisty fighter who swaggers, swears and sleeps with Charles VII of France (Paul Hester), among others. Ralston’s agility with a sword and raw emotion in her delivery make Joan simultaneously despicable and sympathetic. The only flaw in the performance is her occasionally waning French accent, but such an issue is easy to forgive when the acting is this good. And speaking of good acting, is there any role that Matt Felten, possessor of the world’s largest eyes, can’t play? As the simpleminded son of the Master Gunner of Orleans (Maurice Ralston), he earns some of the show’s biggest laughs, but as John Talbot, the poignancy of his decision to uphold his family’s honor and fight against France, even though it will most likely result in his death, is heartbreaking. However, the scene in which he discusses this outcome with his father, English knight Lord Talbot (Drew Reeves), is delivered in sing-song rhyme, which gives the dialog an unintended maudlin flavor.

It was Shakespeare’s intention to create three stand-alone plays when he penned his "Henry VI" trilogy, but the ending of Part I leaves a lingering desire for more. Will the gentle title character (Daniel Parvis) really wed the conniving Margaret of Anjou (Laura Cole), and what will happen when the inevitable love triangle forms between them and the slimy Earl of Suffolk (J.C. Long)? Who will come out on top in the War of the Roses – red John Beaufort of Somerset (Jacob York) or white Richard Plantagenet of York (Maurice Ralston)? And what about all of those severed heads promised in future acts . . .? One thing’s for certain: the Tavern has done its job when several audience members head straight for the box office after curtain call and clamor for tickets to Part II. Every history lesson should be this entertaining. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
by OctoberSundance
Roses are red, but can also be white; they tore England apart and led to a fight.
Tavern Aces English Pageant
by uppermiddlebrow
Monday, November 10, 2008
4.5
If you survive the sword fights that break out all over Shakespeare's fierce look at England torn asunder in the Wars of the Roses, you'll leave the Shakespeare Tavern impressed at the range of acting talent that makes these plays so vivid and enjoyable.

Shakespeare has no patience with ineffectual, naive monarchs who let ambitious dukes get out of hand, but he gives enough distinctive character to each one for the Tavern's favorite veterans, like Tony Brown and Maurice Ralston, as well as newer company members like Danel Parvis as the weedy king, to sink their teeth into. The French court, well .... effete is not a French word for rien, and Paul Hester, Matt Nitchie and the audience have plenty of fun with the Shakespearean version of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Part I tells the Joan of Arc story, and while the play is unsympathetic to the witch, Mary Ruth Ralston gives her a powerful rendering, as the playwright surely intended. It must have been this play that drove the Irish George Bernard Shaw 300 years later to write one of his own best plays, St. Joan, cheering the freedom fighter against the brutal English military occupiers. That debate is proof, if needed, that even the lesser-known Shakespeare plays strike themes that resonate for all times and places. Power struggles, questionable patriotism, glorification of armed violence, the misuse of religion in politics - it's all here in Henry VI.

And don't worry about seeing all three plays or seeing them in order if you've missed part I. Shakespeare wrote them to be enjoyed individually: he was too deft a hand at writing box office draws to make that mistake. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Do not miss the Shakespeare Tavern’s Henry VI series
by Ray-and-Pat
Monday, November 10, 2008
5.0
There was a time when we thought Shakespeare’s history plays were about as comprehensible as Russian opera. The reason for our changed viewpoint is the wonderful work of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, which hangs out at the Tavern on Peachtree Street across from Crawford Long. They are engaged in producing all three plays about King Henry VI of England between now and the end of the month.

They have the unusual idea that the words that Shakespeare wrote are perfectly easy to understand if you say them with great care and incredible diction. What happens is that people who might avoid Shakespeare love to hear it when they can actually hear it.

Then there’s seeing it. The Henry plays are violent enough to be movies, and the Tavern folks carry out the sword slinging, punching, and kicking with gusto and athleticism. The two Ralstons, Maurice as Richard Plantagenet and Mary Ruth as Joan of Arc, combined swordplay and tumbling in one of the best fight scenes you could hope for without Hollywood-style FX. The only thing they didn’t do was tip-toe through the treetops. Drew Reeves is the fight director, and his skills include authenticity, extraordinary gymnastic ability, and passionate dedication to his character. The entire cast was phenomenal about keeping a very complicated story clear and moving the action forward with barely a pause.

The swords are real, the armor looks doggone real, the costumes are beautiful, the food is good, and there’s beer. The people who do the work onstage and backstage are in it for love – definitely not for the money. Jeff Watkins is not only the director of these plays, but the artistic director who gives you a great product worth far more than the ticket price. If you miss the Henry VI plays – and you shouldn’t – get there for Christmas Carol in December.
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OPENING SOON
Another Naughty and Nice Holiday Cabaret
by Lynna Schmidt
Academy Theatre
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Capitol City Opera Company
CLOSING SOON
Arden of Faversham
by Anonymous & William Shakespeare
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by James Lapine (book), Stephen Sondheim (songs)
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by Neil Simon
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Another Naughty and Nice Holiday Cabaret
by Lynna Schmidt
Academy Theatre
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Into the Woods
by James Lapine (book), Stephen Sondheim (songs)
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by Neil Simon
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Midnight at the Masquerade
by The Murder Mystery Company
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