By LIsa DiCarlucci
When you write a show that is pushing four hours, you have to make sure that it is entertaining, engaging and easy to digest. Especially when it is Shakespeare and especially when it is a complex history. Royston Coppenger successfully hits these marks in his adaptation of Shakespeare's King Henry VI trilogy, War of the Roses. With a talented and passionate cast to bring Coppenger's work to life, War of the Roses takes the audience on a thrilling ride through British history.
Entering Adams Playhouse, we are met with an imposing industrial set (designed by Gary Hygom) that, though simple, is quite impressive in stature with ominous qualities. Paired with vibrant, yet threatening, lighting (designed by Connor S. Van Ness), this tale of violence and deception has its scene set.
The play begins with the crowning of young King Henry VI (Allie Rightmeyer) after the death of his father Henry V. His crowning is much disputed and conflict arises between Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York (Keith Pinault) and John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (Pat Harman) over whom should be rightfully King. Those supporting Plantagenet choose a white rose, while those supporting Somerset choose a red rose, hence the show title.
Pinault does a fantastic job playing the complex Duke of York, who yearns for power but is also determined to defend the honor of his family and his father. He shows moments of great anger but also moments of true tenderness, particularly as he faces his own death and the murder of his youngest son.
The Duke of York is murdered by the greedy and mischievous Queen Margaret (Chelsea Frati), a woman captured in battle by the Earl of Suffolk (Christian Titus) and betrothed to King Henry VI. Frati and Titus do well to capture these manipulative characters with vigor and sleaze, making the plot exciting and the Shakespearean language easy to understand through their tone and body language.
After the Earl's death, Titus switches roles to play Edward Plantagenet, one of three surviving sons of the Duke of York who make the last hour of the show particularly enjoyable with their scheming and comedy. Their quest for royalty brings Edward to the throne, while his brother Richard secretly desires to be king himself. Richard (Chris Wentworth) gives one of the most haunting monologues to grace the Adams stage in recent years, as Wentworth truly throws himself into a character that is rife with the maddening desire for power. He takes the audience into Richard's twisted psyche in the most impressive performance of the show.
War of the Roses succeeds in making historical Shakespeare accessible to modern day students without sacrificing time, language, or historical setting. The student actors bring the past to life with a vengeance.