By Marcina Zaccaria
Austin Pendleton successfully combines two Shakespearean plays in Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III, bringing the best of actor’s theater to the stage.
With Austin Pendleton’s direction, the company is completely engaged in the moment. Each persistent beat finds its strength through conflict. Pendleton is also an actor in the piece, playing King Henry VI. Having made his Broadway debut in 1962 with the Oh Dad, Poor Dad…, directed by Jerome Robbins, he keeps his presence focused and inclusive. Speaking on the edge of the stage, seemingly building and dissolving a fourth wall, he describes his plight. Having appeared in about 250 movies, including My Cousin Vinny and The Front Page, this actor also appreciates the filmic side of acting, confidentially sharing bits of texts.
With royalty, there is burden, revelation, and destruction. One power play after another takes effect. The dagger fights are expressive, sometimes in slow motion, and perfectly choreographed. One after the next, the players advance to the bright red throne, taking the crown. Approaching from a distance, the dynamic energy is sustained in space. Richard eventually kills Henry. It is a man’s world, with space for grieving and anguish, and the lamentations of Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess of York are particularly strong. Seated behind the main players, the supporting performers seem to be a type of shadow, leaving an indication of what was once there or could be.
Performing in the theater right next to HB Studios, these actors, Co-Directed by Peter Bloch, find a way to enchant colleagues and fans alike. With splattered shirts, crosses, silver belts, characteristic rings, and a few crowns, the Costume Design, is inspired by Maya Luz. She is Costume Consultant for the show, having previously appeared on the popular television show, Project Runway. The costumes are snappy, creating notions just beyond those found in a workshop production. Set in a small black box theater in Greenwich Village with chairs in the back, a bloody drop in the background, and two daggers hanging from the ceiling on both sides of the play, it is astonishingly bare bones.
Richard III is a consummate villain, riddled with all of the horror of ambition. With a claw of a hand and a hump on his back, Matt de Rogatis (Hamlet at 13th Street Repertory Theatre, The Elephant Man in The Exhibition) finds the drama, not in Richard’s limp but his determined gaze and outreached hand. Longer monologues carry the audience through the end of the show. His incessant need for his more grotesque qualities to be recognized are matched by his desire to claim the throne. The scene between Richard III and Queen Elizabeth, played by Matt de Rogatis and Johanna Leister, is particularly potent, and the tête-à-tête toward the end of the play is not to be missed.
Photos: Chris Loupos
Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III will be running until August 19th at the 124 Bank Street Theatre.