Acclaimed in 2002 in England, where it was created and adapted by Edward Hall and Roger Warren, and Jeff Award-nominated in Chicago in under Hall's direction for Chicago Shakespeare in 2003, the unique production opens a window on three lesser-known history plays by Shakespeare.
If your response to the words "Henry VI" is, "I don't know those plays," this is a rare opportunity to digest the entire story (with some trims — Joan of Arc has been cut) in what's billed as "a single theatrical event" that includes a 75-minute dinner break.
These are the plays that chronicle the personalities and conflicts in the medieval British civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses — York vs. Lancaster — and Richard of Gloucester, the "bunch-back'd" figure who will become Richard III, appears here before he ascends to his own leading role.
Performances play to Oct. 17 in Off-Broadway's The Duke on 42nd Street in the heart of Times Square. The 2003 Chicago Shakespeare staging of Rose Rage recently earned six 2004 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations.
Presented by The New 42nd Street, Rose Rage is performed in two parts of approximately two hours each, with intermissions in each part. The dinner break comes in the middle, of course. As with the English staging in 2003 (and indeed its original stagings 400 years ago) the production has an all-male cast. The company is made up of Chicago actors — the same troupe that played Navy Pier a year ago (one role has been recast).
Rose Rage is billed as "a startlingly blunt retelling of William Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy," tracing "the monumental events surrounding England's collapse in the 15th century — from the untimely death of warrior-king Henry V, through the deterioration of his French conquests in the hands of his son Henry VI, the slow broiling of York's rebellion, and the eruption of the Wars of the Roses, one of England's bloodiest civil wars."
For those who like their Shakespeare to be provocative, the setting of the work is a slaughterhouse.
"Rose Rage is set in a Victorian slaughterhouse where masked butcher boys doubling as an ensemble chorus create a backdrop to the nobility's orchestrated brutality," according to production notes. "Battle scenes and murders are mimed before a background of literal butchery, with raw meat and red cabbage serving as metaphors for the intense violence of royal disputes."
Hall, son of legendary director Sir Peter Hall, made his U.S. directorial debut with Rose Rage at Chicago Shakespeare following the development of the project at the Watermill Theatre and a tour in the United Kingdom. He made his New York directorial debut with A Midsummer Night's Dream at BAM in March 2004. His production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is currently playing at the National Theatre in London, where he recently directed Kenneth Branagh in an acclaimed production of David Mamet's Edmond.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater is under the leadership of artistic director Barbara Gaines and executive director Criss Henderson. The 17-year-old not-for-profit relocated to Chicago's Navy Pier in 1999. (Its humble beginning was on the roof of the Red Lion Pub on the City's north side in 1987.)
In addition to creating its own works with its resident pool of directors (Gaines and Gary Griffin among them), the company scouts out national and international talent to bring new perspectives to its stages — bringing Edward Hall to Chicago to recreate his Rose Rage with Chicago actors is a prime example of Chicago Shakespeare's effort to reach.
As an international presenter, Chicago Shakespeare productions have included Brian Bedford and members of the Stratford Festival of Canada performing Molière and Sheridan; Peter Brook's The Tragedy of Hamlet, featuring Adrian Lester; Simon Callow in The Mystery of Charles Dickens; Mark Rylance and the acting company of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre; and La Comédie-Française in Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid).
In summer 2003, Chicago Shakespeare's production of Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures, directed by associate artistic director Gary Griffin, was presented at London's Donmar Warehouse, in a co-production that won three Olivier Awards, including Best Musical Production.
Later this year, The Abbey Theatre celebrates its centennial at Chicago Shakespeare with a production of The Playboy of the Western World.
Members of Chicago Shakespeare's Rose Rage acting company have performed in more than 40 Chicago Shakespeare Theater productions. The cast of Rose Rage includes Jason Denuszek (General of Paris/Prince), Will Dickerson (Somerset/Lady Grey/2nd Rebel/Rutland/Son), Joe Forbrich (Earl of Warwick/Jack Cade), Sean Fortunato (Duke Humphrey/Young Clifford/Lord Rivers), Chris Genebach (Cardinal Winchester/Lord Saye, Lord Clifford), Timothy Gregory (Earl of Suffolk/Duke of Clarence/Dick the Butcher), Carman Lacivita (King Henry VI/John Talbot/Lady Bona), Fletcher McTaggart (Edward IV/Lord Talbot/Smith the Weaver), Mark L. Montgomery (Duke of Exeter/1st Rebel), Scott Parkinson (Margaret of Anjou/Vernon), Jay Whittaker (Basset/Richard of Gloucester/Clerk of Chatham) and Bruce A. Young (Richard Plantagenet/Duke of York/Sir Humphrey Stafford/Father/King Louis XI).
Scenic and costume design are by Michael Pavelka, lighting design is by Ben Ormerod.
The performance schedule for Rose Rage at The Duke on 42nd Street is 6 PM Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 PM Sundays. No performances Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Tickets for the production are $75, and can be ordered by visiting Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. Tickets are also on sale at The Duke on 42nd Street box office, 229 W. 42nd Street, Second Floor.
For more information about Chicago Shakespeare Theater, visit www.chicagoshakes.com.
Founded in 1990, The New 42nd Street Inc. is an independent, nonprofit organization charged with long term responsibility for seven historic theatres on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. In addition to finding live theatre and entertainment tenants for these buildings, The New 42nd Street owns and operates both The New Victory Theater (New York's first theatre for kids and families) and the New 42nd Street Studios (a 10-story, state-of-the-art facility containing 14 rehearsal studios, office space and a workshop/experimental theatre named The Duke on 42nd Street for national and international performing arts companies).