Gentle King Henry VI, whose conciliatory wisdom made him a nice guy but a completely ineffective ruler, now finds himself Off-Broadway, as the Joseph Papp Public Theatre's New York Shakespeare Festival opens Karin Coonrod's production of Shakespeare's Henry VI Wednesday, Dec. 18.
Continuing its nearly decade-old Shakespeare Marathon, the New York Shakespeare Festival will produce the Henry VI trilogy, but condensed into two evenings, being performed in repertory. The productions were scheduled to end Dec. 29 but have already been extended to Jan. 5, 1997, and production spokesperson Bill Coyle expressed hope that, reviews permitting, the production would extend even further.
The plays chronicle Henry's life, from his crowning at infancy to his marriage to formidable Frenchwoman Margaret (who chides his weakness), through the War of the Roses (1422-85), his imprisonment and murder at the hands of Richard of Gloucester -- who would become another, even more memorable Shakespeare protagonist, King Richard III.
Part I of Henry VI, which Coonrod has subtitled, "The Edged Sword," and Part II, Black Storm are currently in previews. The two will alternate performances for the rest of the run at Martinson Hall at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village.
Believed to be the first of Shakespeare's historical plays, Henry VI covers the middle of the War of the Roses (1422-85), in which the dynastic houses of Lancaster and York vied for the throne of England. Henry VI traces the life of the boy-king who was crowned when his armies were still battling Joan of Arc. A weak king despite his marriage to the powerful Frenchwoman Margaret of Anjou, Henry watches his power crumble until finally he is defeated and succeeded by the formidable Edward of York. The plays' action follows that of the better-known Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, and is followed by Richard III.
The cast for this production includes Steven Skybell, Jan Leslie Harding, Walker Jones, Mark Kenneth Smaltz and others. Each of the production's 10 actors will triple and quadruple in the epic's 62 roles.
Coonrod is one of the mainstays of Off-Off-Broadway's Arden Party theatre ensemble, having founded the group and having directed more than 20 productions there . She was a 1995-96 artist-in-residence at the Public.
Sets for the Henry VI plays are by P.K. Wish, costumes by Constance hoffman, lighting by Kevin Adams and original musical by Glen Moore.
There will be several opportunities to catch both parts of the play on the same day. For tickets ($35/part) and information on Henry VI, call (212) 260-2400 or (212) 239-6200. Tickets also can be ordered on Playbill On-Line.
-- By Robert Viagas and David Lefkowitz