Henry VI: Blood of a Nation | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Henry VI: Blood of a Nation 

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Henry VI: Blood of a Nation, Bailiwick Repertory. Some stagings may give the impression that the War of the Roses was all lofty speeches and martial glory, but Jeremy Wechsler looks at history with a brutal modern eye. Compressing all three of Shakespeare's full-length plays into a relatively compact three-hour adaptation, he reduces them to a series of lies, manipulations, and murders that follow on one another with terrifying swiftness. No sooner do we think the carnage is at an end than another ruthless scheme is hatched. Indeed, the final words in this play are the opening lines from Richard III--the body count continues.

War has never looked uglier than in Bailiwick's staging, with its drab, muddy-hued set and chronologically nebulous tattered wardrobe--even Queen Margaret's ladylike garb soon gives way to leather field gear. Under Wechsler's meticulous direction, the industrial-strength cast--led by Mitchell Fain as the reluctant monarch and Laura Jones Macknin as his duplicitous consort--rejects the affectations of classical delivery to create as cruel and creepy a gang of hoodlums as ever growled in blank verse. And the necessary double- and triple-casting of actors gives new meaning to the term "universal soldier."

At the end of the evening we may leave the violence and intrigue behind, but we are irrevocably reminded that neither men nor nations are born without conspicuous blood, tears, and pain.

--Mary Shen Barnidge


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