Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On The Arts Fuse: Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Henry VI, Part 2"

On The Arts Fuse, I review Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of Henry VI, Part 2, which despite being the origin of the oft-quoted line, "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers", is rarely performed. This presentation, currently running at The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University through June 7, is masterfully directed by Tina Packer. I was particularly taken with the character of Jack Cade, the villain of Act IV, played by Allyn Burrows:

However far he may depart from his ‘real life’ inspiration, Cade (Burrows) is unprecedented amongst Shakespeare’s characters: a truly lethal clown – through much of Act IV he and his followers ravage England, lopping off the heads of one nobleman after another to great comic effect. He even has his own convoluted claim on the crown, reciting his questionable pedigree — a parody of York’s own claims — even as he strikes the figure of a lord of misrule, espousing an incoherent philosophy that is alternately a parody of anarchy and communism (Shakespeare’s distrusted the hoi polloi as a political class). Behind the mayhem (York’s and Cade’s) is a thirst for absolute dictatorship – the famous line about killing all the lawyers (an ambiguous rallying cry for both tyrant and anarchist) comes from one of Cade’s followers. The historical Cade might have been less of a clown, but the theatrical one comes off as an unacknowledged forerunner of Alfred Jarry’s famous Père Ubu (as well as Mister Punch and Fredrico García Lorca’s Don Cristóbal) He is also a prescient parody of the political extremists and tyrants who have shaped the past century for the worse. Burrows’ portrayal of an ignorant but bloodthirsty imp of perversity is a rip-roaring joy.

I also suggest that perhaps the current pop-culture zeitgeist makes the time ripe for this particular play to be revived more often:

Given the current pop-culture climate in which audiences thrill to stories of cynical realpolitik handily trumping the virtues and idealism of public service (as in the case of popular series such as House of Cards, and Game of Thrones) – the zeitgeist is ripe for Henry VI, Part 2 to be revived – and perhaps, with the taste for long form storytelling so prevalent, Parts 1 & 3 may deserve some love as well. Nonetheless, Part 2 is sufficiently self-contained, beginning with the marriage of Henry and Margaret and ending with the First Battle of St. Albans and start of the Wars of the Roses. Familiarity with the oft-staged Henry V and Richard III provide more than adequate background on what happened before and what happens next.

Read the full review on The Arts Fuse!

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