The Southwest Shakespeare Company opened its 17th season last night with the world premiere of Dr. Michael Flachmann's Blood Royal, an ambitious, dramatic distillation of three of the Bard's histories covering the end of the 100 Years War and the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses, as depicted in the Henry VI Trilogy.
Henry VI, Part 1 is believed to have been written in 1591 and deals with the loss of England's French territories and the political morass, the resulting uncivil civil unrest that dominated English royal politics for the next fifty years,culminating in the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI Part 2 deals with the King's inability to quell the bickering of his nobles, and the inevitability of armed conflict. Henry VI Part 3 is concerned with the horrors of that follow with that conflict.
The Henry VI Trilogy is often grouped with Richard III, covering the entire Wars of the Roses saga, from the death of Henry V in 1422 to the rise to power of Henry VII in 1485. It was the success of this sequence of plays that firmly established Shakespeare's reputation as the greatest playwright of his generation.
Henry VI, Part 1 is widely considered to be the weakest play in Shakespeare's historical trilogy. In Blood Royal, Dr. Flachmann does not dispel that opinion. The first third of his play is a tad tiresome, steeped in never ending battle, blood, bombast and blades drawn. It is only when the drama leaves France in defeat and returns to English soil that evening begins its invigorating, non-stop roller coaster ride of extreme dramatic highs and lows.
SW Shakespeare Company's Artistic Director Jared Sakren has brilliantly staged the evening, imbuing Flachmann's Blood Royal with thoroughly thought-through and uncompromising vision. Sakren has taken his large, excellent ensemble of twenty-two performers and turned them into a miraculous cast of 100's.
Sakren says about Blood Royal, "The stakes could not be higher and whole family dynasties and wealth hinge on the outcome of the brutal Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster. This world premiere, using Shakespeare's own words, is a relentless, heart-pounding epic of brutal battles, Joan of Arc, witchcraft, family loyalty and betrayal, and of the ultimate prize----the attainment of the English crown."
Lana Buss as Margaret, Queen to Henry VI, is magnificent. She is the most welcome and dominant force in the unfolding drama of succession. Her every scene is electrifying. Larry Stone is superb as the naive, emaciated, frail Henry VI who lives in horror and misery at the rampant, bloody deceptions surrounding him. His only wish is for his country to know peace and prosperity. His Queen is caustic, critical and unforgiving of his frustrating naiveté. Margaret proves to be a better man than her husband could ever wish to be. Buss makes her Margaret a formidable foe for all her enemies.
Eric Schoen is simply marvelous as the Earl of Suffolk (later Duke). He is Margaret's secret lover and his ambitions to rule tragically lead to his inevitable downfall and murder. Eric Thompson is equally wonderful as the duplicitous Duke of Clarence, constantly changing sides to secure his safety in the war of succession. Spencer Dooley is a true chameleon. He begins the play as the deceptively foppish Dauphin (later Charles VII of France). Later he returns as Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). As Richard he is properly physically and mentally deformed and revels in his madness and masculinity. Dooley is a fascinating actor who steals his every scene.
Elena Deida has designed the sumptuous, resplendent costumes. Chris Tubilewicz's splendid sets and Daniel Davisson's dazzling lighting design animate the action and drama beautifully. Fight director David Barker has staged the play's astounding twenty-seven virulent battle scenes with a malevolent, rancorous violence.
Dr. Michael Flachmann's Blood Royal is an auspicious, truly astonishing beginning to what promises to be a most fantastic and welcome season for Southwest Shakespeare Company.
Blood Royal will be followed by:
Twelfth Night, November 27 to December 18 in the Farnsworth Studio Theater.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, January 6 to January 22 in the Piper Repertory Theater.
The Importance of Being Earnest, March 3 to March 19 in the Farnsworth Studio Theater.
Antony and Cleopatra (Arizona Premiere), April 14 to April 30 in the Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse.
Graphic artworks and photos courtesy of Southwest Shakespeare Company.
For more information about Blood Royal in the Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse, individual tickets, performance schedules and subscription details for all of SW Shakespeare's 2010-11 season of plays, please contact SW Shakespeare Company either ONLINE, by phone at (480) 644 6500 or in person at the Mesa Arts Center's Box Office.
Southwest Shakespeare Company at Mesa Arts Center (MAC) One East Main Street Mesa 85201