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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0643  Thursday, 13 November 2008

From:       Gregory Hanthorn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Wednesday, 12 Nov 2008 17:51:11 EST
Subject:    Live Performance of Henry VI (Parts 1-3) in Atlanta

The Atlanta Shakespeare Company, Inc., is presenting all three parts of Henry VI 
in performance this month. The attached on-line article from the Atlanta 
Journal-Constitution contains a review of Henry VI, Part One, and some comments 
on the entire series.

November 28, 29, and 30 will present a once in a  lifetime chance to see all 
three plays presented back to back to back, and a  limited number of tickets 
remain available for that weekend at www.shakespearetavern.com 
(http://www.shakespearetavern.com) .

Now Playing  at the Shakespeare Tavern:
Henry VI, parts 1, 2, and 3
Runs Thurs-Sunday, 06  Nov - 30 November 2008
Coming next: A Christmas Carol
Buy your tickets online at _www.shakespearetavern.com_


Royal Family Trilogy
Shakespeare Tavern tackles 'Henry VI' as part of ongoing project.
By _Pierre Ruhe_ (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Joan of Arc, sporting a butch haircut and chain mail, moves with feline agility. 
In a few deft swings of her sword and a fierce left hook, she decks the future 
king of France, earning his allegiance and his lust. But this Joan is no saint. 
By the time she is captured by the English, she's been revealed as a harlot and, 
almost as troubling, as a  religious fanatic in league with demons. And she is 
without honor, pleading and whimpering for her life (and her unborn child's) 
before being carried to the stake to be burned.

Meanwhile, the young English king, Henry VI, is too callow to enforce peace 
among his own  subjects. His vassals-at turns slap-stick or vicious -- argue 
over their  rightful claims to the throne, leading to the War of the Roses, the 
civil war fraught between two branches of the same royal family. Shakespeare's 
"Henry  VI" trilogy was his first attempt to write history for the stage, in the 
early  1590s. Wildly popular in his day, they made his reputation.

Yet the three plays, as a cycle, have largely fallen out of sight. They're now 
on the boards at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern, an "original practice" company 
that uses a core troupe of actors who perform in an Elizabethan-styled 
playhouse-pub in Midtown.

Billed as the first professional performances in the Southeast, the production 
is in repertory through Nov. 30; the three plays can be seen on consecutive 
evenings beginning Nov. 28.

Eat, drink, enjoy the Bard's psychologically nuanced verse -- and count the 
severed heads, all seven of them, custom made to match the actors who lose them.

The three "Henry VI" plays,  says Jeff Watkins, the tavern's artistic director, 
run as "an unbroken arc, they  come off as one big 15-act play that's seven 
hours long. They're bloody plays, but there's also a richness to experience the 
playwright discover for himself tricks and techniques he'd use later, and more 

Then there are the  extravagant female roles. The blatantly anti-French (and 
anti-Catholic) portrayal of Joan of Arc is typical of Elizabethan England. More 
unusual is Margaret of Anjou, whom Watkins calls "arguably the greatest, in some 
ways most ruthless, female role in all of Shakespeare." Margaret is a beautiful, 
impoverished princess in part one. She takes a lover then marries Henry in part 
two and, by part three, matures into an Amazon warrior queen, loathing her king 
and victorious on the battlefield.

History project

Watkins decided on mount "Henry VI" as part of the troupe's ongoing history 
project, which has  already covered both popular "Henry IV" plays plus "Henry V" 
and "Richard II."  After these Henry Sixes will come "Richard III" next year.

Which raises the question: If each of these other sagas are oft-performed and 
even filmed by Hollywood, what has stunted "Henry VI"?  Barbara Mowat, co-editor 
of the  Folger Shakespeare edition of plays and director of research at the 
Folger Library in Washington, is currently editing " Henry VI" part 3.

Her verdict: "They're terrifically exciting in the theater, less so on the page. 
Margaret requires a first-rate actress to stitch together that complex character."

Mowat suspects the inconsistent quality of the "Henry VI" plays  is due to 
multiple authorships-when it wasn't uncommon for different  playwrights (or the 
even the actors) to add bits to a play.

That jibes with  the Oxford Shakespeare edition, which frames the matter 
squarely: For centuries  the trilogy had the "dubious distinction ... of being 
Shakespeare's least liked  and least played." Watkins, speaking in his Tudor 
fortress overlooking Peachtree Street, has his theories why.

"You get a shallow sense of what can  be done from reading and you can't tell 
what's comedy," he offers. "They make ruthless fun of the French, but that' s 
not evident till the actors are on stage and it's clear what they're saying and 
to whom."

Stephen Greenblatt, author of the best-selling "Will in the World: How 
Shakespeare Became Shakespeare," was startled to learn that a regional troupe 
would attempt "Henry VI."

Reached this week at his office at Harvard, Greenblatt sees the "Henry VI" plays 
as first glimpses into the grand themes central to the playwright's career output.

Across the three plays, there's an exploration of political rebellion and the 
nature of leadership.

There are fantasies of restoration. And there  are tormented marriages and 
characters twisted by their religious belief. Joan of Arc is a witch, while King 
Henry VI is described as saintly -- "all his mind is bent to holiness" -- but 
his pathetic weakness leads to disaster for the realm.

For Watkins and the Shakespeare Tavern -- coming off the best box office 
receipts in its history with some 50,000 tickets sold last season --  pushing 
the edges of the Shakespeare canon is part of the mission.

"'Henry  VI' gets the same treatment as all our work," says Watkins, where 
"following the  letter of the text to an absurd degree is our first ambition." 
Watkins says he wants no distance between the poetry and the audience, "so if 
our emotional journey is going to work it's immediate and it's powerful.

"And there are always the 16 battle scenes and the beheadings to keep everyone's 
adrenaline pumped."

Gregory Hanthorn
Atlanta, Georgia

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