‘Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses’ Shines at Theatricum

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin

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‘Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s  War of the Roses’ Shines at Theatricum
Photos by Ian Flanders Emoria Weidner as the newly crowned King Henry VI becomes King Henry
Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum continues its 50th Anniversary Summer Season with a production of “Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses,” a new edit of Shakespeare’s best-known history plays compiled by Artistic Director Ellen Geer. Love, lust, greed, power, family, dynasties, violence, blood and murder. Any fan of Game of Thrones will find much to admire in Theatricum’s version of Shakespeare’s history plays that focuses on the women of the court. Indeed, Theatricum’s production of Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses” encompassing Henry VI Parts I, II, III, and Richard III centers on the power-mad Queen Margaret as well as the women and children of Shakespeare’s civil war saga. This is a wonderful and fascinating play, a rip-roaring spectacle with a cast of thousands scheming and fighting onstage and into the woods beyond. But, fear not, gentle playgoer! These histories have been most skillfully adapted by Theatricum’s brilliant Artistic Director, Ellen Geer, to focus on the most important political aspects of the wars of the Middle Ages. Geer also directed the play to effectively portray decades of war, love, lust and bloody insurrections that determined who sat on the throne of England. “It’s so like today,” says Geer. “The intrigue of the court is just like what happens in Congress and the fight for the White House. It’s all about who deserves what and who did what to whom. All done for political rise and wealth. No one really cares about the people, or about good government. Why do this play, you ask? Because watching as history repeats itself might someday bring folks to their senses.” Geer mainly puts the focus on the women in court as they watch the bloody wars (with battle scenes choreographed by fight choreographer Cavin “CR” Mohrhardt) and take the lives of their fathers, husbands and sons. Margaret of Anjou Appearing as a principal figure in Shakespeare’s history plays, Margaret of Anjou (March 23, 1429–August 25, 1482) was the queen consort of Henry VI of England and a leader of the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485), a series of battles for the English throne between the houses of York and Lancaster, both of which descended from Edward III. The queen, a fierce fighter for her son, her husband, and the House of Lancaster, was described as such in Shakespeare’s The Third Part of King Henry VI: “She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France, Whose tongue more poisons than the adder’s tooth.” Strong-willed and ambitious, Margaret was relentless in her efforts to secure the crown for her son, but she ultimately failed. The Encyclopedia Britannica writes: “Her fierce partisanship embittered her enemies, and the Yorkists didn’t hesitate to allege that her son was a bastard. Margaret’s marriage to the ineffectual, mentally unbalanced Henry VI was arranged as part of a truce in another conflict, the Hundred Years’ War between France and England.” (For an excellent source to prepare you for battle, go to history.com/topics/european-history/wars-of-the-roses) According to Sarah Pagliaccio, who writes “In Defense of Shakespeare’s Queen Margaret of Anjou,” (Harvard Extension School): “Margaret of Anjou, who appears in the four history plays known as the first tetralogy (1-3 Henry VI and Richard III), is unique among William Shakespeare’s characters. Almost the entirety of her life is played out on stage, from her real-life engagement to King Henry VI of England at the age of fourteen to her fictionalized self-banishment to France around age forty-five. Within this singular character, Margaret fulfills the roles of daughter, bride, wife, mother, lover, queen, avenging warrior, and grieving widow—a greater range than any other character in Shakespeare’s work, man or woman.” As Queen Margaret, Melora Marshall is simply magnificent with a bravura performance ranging from innocent ingenue to a ferocious advocate for her son, Edward, Prince of Wales. In addition to Marshall, Willow Geer portrayed both Dame Eleanor, the scheming wife of the Duke of Gloucester, and Lady Elizabeth Grey who became Queen Elizabeth after her marriage to Edward IV. (Be sure to return to the Theatricum for Willow Geer’s outstanding performance as Lady M. in Macbeth!) Cindy Guastaferro played the impassioned Duchess of York, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III. The lovely Claire Simba was Lady Anne, daughter-in-law of Henry VI, widow of the young Prince Edward, and, finally, wife of the repulsive Richard III. Special note must be made for the great performance by Jon Sprik who doubled as the scheming Duke of Suffolk and the evil, disfigured Richard III ranting and raving his way across the stage—bravo! Other men in the production were Roman Guastaferro as King Henry IV; Emoria Weidner as King Henry VI; Franc Ross as the Duke of Gloucester, protector of the realm and Max Lawrence as Richard, Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III); Tim Halligan as the Duke of Somerset; Gerald C. Rivers as the Duke of Buckingham; and Christopher Wallinger as Cardinal Beaufort. The large cast features Charlie Burg; Sara Carpenter; Ben Church; Rhett Curry; Cole Dechant; Emelie Dechant; Julius Geer-Polin; Dylan Greer; Colin Guthrie; Emerson Haller; Christopher Wei Fu Hernandez; Michael Kendrick; Andrew Klein; Tariq Mieres; Nations; Daniel Ramirez, Quinlynn Scheppner; Anthony Soliz, Sky Wahl; Aralyn Wilson; and Elliott Gray Wilson. The creative team for Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses includes lighting designer Zach Moore, sound designer Charles Glaudini; costume designer Shon LeBlanc and prop master Ian Geatz. The production stage manager is Kim Cameron. Queen Margaret’s Version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses continues through Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.; a Prologue (pre-show) Discussion will take place on Saturday, Aug. 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets to performances range from $15 to $48. Premium seating is available for $60. Children 4 and under are free. Pay What You Will ticket pricing (cash only at the door) is available for the performance on Friday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. The amphitheater is terraced into the hillside, so audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early to picnic in the gardens before a performance. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (310) 455-3723 or visit theatricum.com.
John Sprik (Richard III)
Queen Margaret (Melora Marshall) wreaks vengeance on the Duke of York (Max Lawrence).
Annemarie Donkin

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