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BWW Review: Austin Pendleton Creates a Shakespearean Combo in WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III

The stage is quite empty, save for a makeshift throne in a corner and a couple of rows of ordinary looking chairs in the back, where actors not involved with scenes sit. The costumes are contemporary clothes, mostly black, with the occasional embellishment to suggest the 15th Century setting. When a character is in need of a dagger, he'll grab one of the two hanging from ropes on either side of the stage.

BWW Review: Austin Pendleton Creates a Shakespearean Combo in WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III
Matt de Rogatis and Austin Pendleton
(Photo: Chris Loupos)

Frills are not the attraction in Ruth Stage's WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III, adaptor/co-director (with Peter Bloch) Austin Pendleton's Shakespearean combo where part three of the Henry VI trilogy serves as a prelude to the bloody Richard III saga, edited down to about three hours.

Though he'll forever be instantly identified for creating the role of Motel in the original 1964 production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the 78-year-old Pendleton has spent the ensuing decades earning a reputation as a beloved mainstay of New York theatre, as an actor, playwright, director and a teacher at HB Studios and The New School.

Here, he's the focus of the early scenes as the weary and ineffectual Henry VI, a performance highlighted by a lovely recitation of the fading monarch's contemplation, in the midst of civil war over the crown, of how much happier his life might be "to be no better than a homely swain."

BWW Review: Austin Pendleton Creates a Shakespearean Combo in WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III
John Constantine and Matt de Rogatis
(Photo: Chris Loupos)

When Henry agrees to end the conflict by naming the Duke of York, Richard Plantegenet (smooth and domineering Jim Broaddus) as his heir to the throne over his son Prince Edward (John Constantine, excellent in his three roles) the outraged Queen Margaret (Debra Lass) declares war on the House of York.

Keenly observing is the Duke's youngest son and namesake, who will take the title of Duke of Gloucester, before a series of political manipulations and assassinations see him crowned as Richard III.

Matt de Rogatis plays the role with the traditional physicality; a crouched walk, a withered arm and a large hump protruding from his back. But his character hints at being a streetwise urban wise guy; a punk who revels in his own cunning as he subdues anyone who underestimates his capabilities.

Despite its length, the proceedings can seem a bit rushed, as the play quickly jumps to its major plot points. But there is some especially memorable scene work, such as when the persuasive Duke of Clarence (Pete McElligott) tries talking his way out of being murdered by two hired assassins; one gullible (Milton Elliott) and the other anxious to get the job done (Constantine). A stirring highlight is the matchup between Richard and Johanna Leister's commanding Queen Elizabeth, barely hiding her disgust as the monarch negotiates for her daughter's hand.

Though the production has the feel of a workshop, initially trying out an idea before further work is done (hopefully that might include the restoration of the "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech) WARS OF THE ROSES can be enjoyed for its ambition and fine work by its ensemble.

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From This Author Michael Dale