Gender blender

Henry VI Part Three

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Ivanna Cullinan
Judith Shakespeare Company
Jose Quintero Theatre
534 W. 42nd St. (212/592-1885)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 13)
Review by Charles Battersby

Henry VI Part Three is the final part of Shakeapeare's telling of the Wars of the Roses, and leads up to the last of his history plays, Richard III. The Judith Shakespeare Company has presented every one of Shakeapeare's previous history plays in a reading series they call "Shakespeare Unplugged," and JSC intends to do Richard III next year. These "unplugged" productions are more elaborate than a staged reading, yet aren't quite full productions either. The entire cast stays on book, wears modern clothing, and moves around on a mostly bare stage.

While the JSC productions of Henry VI Part One and Part Two had mostly the same casting, by the time Part Three rolls around, most characters from the first two Henry VI plays have been killed off, and casting changed dramatically. While Suzanne Hayes reprised her role as the titular monarch, the real stars of the show were the Duke of York (Susan Ferrara) and Queen Margaret, who was played by the cast's only man (Michael Shattner). York's death at the hands of Queen Margaret truly stood out as the high point in the show.

This gender reversal in a staple for the Judith Shakespeare Company, which is devoted to "reexamining the roles for women in classical theatre." As with previous Henry VI productions, the gender-flipping was not consistent, with most of the female roles still being played by women, and it's not certain why director Ivanna Cullinan would give the show's best female role to a man. Letting her all-female cast get upstaged by the play's token Y-chromosome wasn't the best statement to make on the roles for women in classical theatre.

As with the JSC's other "unplugged" productions, Henry VI Part Three had almost no costuming. Everyone wore black present-day clothing with occasional accessories (a red or white sash to indicate which side of the Wars of the Roses the character is on, etc.). The set consisted of two chairs, with a shield hanging on the wall. Because the stage was too small to hold all 30 members of the cast, many scenes had actors on stage conversing with actors at the back of the theatre. This resulted in tennis-match style neck craning and audience whiplash. The only lighting effect was a red glow that came up for stage-combat sequences. The stage combat, which suffered in the JSC's previous two installments, was actually better this time around, with faster-paced action and more experienced combatants such as Carey Van Driest.

Just like the rest of the JSC's Wars of the Roses, all sound effects and music were cleverly handled by a live percussionist (Katie Down), who was also the composer.

As with the Judith Shakespeare Company's previous two Henry VI plays, Part Three didn't quite stand on its own feet, but when combined with the rest of the trilogy it made for a rare opportunity to see all three plays at once, and that in itself was laudable.

(Also featuring Hilary Ward, Sheila Ostadazim, Renee Bucciarelli, Corrie McCrae, Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons, Natasha Yannacanedo, Kristen Harlow, Melody Garren, Jovinna Chan, Lisa Marie Preston, Alegria Alcala.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby