I was exhausted after a long day; could I really drive into town at rush hour, and make it through a two hour 45 minute Shakespeare History play– namely HENRY VI, PART 2? It did have Actors’ Shakespeare Project going for it, a terrific cast in multiple roles, acclaimed Shakespearean director Tina Packer, and a darkly intimate venue– Suffolk University’s THE MODERN THEATRE.
YES!! The production had me at Allyn Burrow’s amusing pre-show welcoming speech as he hawked “Shakespearean” merchandise, then kept me worked up for the next two plus hours. What a vibrant, fully alive production, delineating the machinations behind beleaguered young Henry’s reign. Henry VI’s court is roiling with intrigue over who could, should, would seize the throne. Henry, tenderly played by a blonde-tressed Jesse Hinson, has just married Margaret the French princess (Jennie Israel) who’s cavorting behind the scenes with the Duke of Suffolk (Craig Mathers) who’s after the throne. Israel looks a tad matronly to be the vulnerable Henry’s bride, but I gradually forgave that, and the relative stiffness of her delivery, and was convinced by her confidence and worldly bearing.
Margaret and Suffolk are at odds with the Duke of Gloucester, played by Allyn Burrows who demonstrates his exceptional range, first as the King’s protector, and later as the riotous rebel leader Jack Cade. Marya Lowry is a wonder as Gloucester’s ambitious wife Eleanor, her beauty ravaged after banishment for conjuring spirits in hopes of getting the inside track on the throne. The Duchess’s transgression paves the way for Gloucester’s murder by Suffolk and the conniving Cardinal Beaufort played by Stephen Barkhimer who is effortlessly imperious, frightening, or funny, depending on the part– and here he plays five more.
Perhaps the most notable performance in an evening of notable performances is that of Nigel Gore as a seething, grasping Duke of York; he’s foaming at the mouth to be king, and spits out his righteous genealogy in one of the play’s most hilariously emphatic monologues. Later he’s practically Monty Pythonesque as Dick the butcher whacking the heads off whoever comes his way.
The action is rambunctiously choreographed up, down, and all around the double height performance space, from bedding to beheading, dramatic and comedic elements seamlessly intertwined around a compelling series of events leading straight to the opening salvos of the Wars of the Roses and our first glimpse of that “abortive rooting hog… that poisonous bunchback’d toad” better known as Richard III (Marya Lowry, again!) whose remains were recently discovered under a parking lot in Leicester. But I digress; there’s plenty right here in ASP’s HENRY VI, PART 2 at the Modern Theatre to keep you enthralled, and you have until June 7 to do yourself a favor and see it!