His long dark hair regally swept back, the tall and burly Mr. de Rogatis wears black pants and a black hoodie with a swirling pattern and later a tight black leather jacket that both emphasize the small hump on his back. One of his arms is permanently scrunched up, suggesting that it’s withered and his posture is at an ever-present slouch as he scurries about. Visually, temperamentally and vocally de Rogatis is perfection as that infamous villain. “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?” is just of one of the numerous famous lines that bring down the house due to his euphoric manner.
An early soliloquy detailing the physical afflictions and mental isolation of the character, the conniving pursuit of Lady Anne around the red velvet draped coffin containing her husband that he killed, being crowned and leaning over the edge of the stage to really address the audience are highlights of this sensational performance that are evident throughout.
That renowned man of the theater Austin Pendleton’s concept to adapt and combine portions of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 with Richard III is intriguing and textually successful. The first 40 minutes give background of the English Civil War in the 1400’s, impart exposition, flesh out the motivations of Richard III, and depict his adoration of his father, the Duke of York. This mashup also gives a fresh spin to those only familiar with Richard III and there’s plenty of neat stabbings.
Mr. Pendleton’s staging with co-director Peter Bloch is straightforward, clean and polished. However, lasting three hours with an intermission, the production could do with more stage business as there are lengthy stretches of just actors speaking Shakespeare’s lines with varying results. At one point Richard calls out for a trumpet and drums and hearing those or any sounds would have added some needed verve.
The abrupt ending typifies the apparent disinterest in spectacle even on a small-scale. This occurs just before the climactic battle for the control of England. It’s disorienting and confusing. “Is it over?” is the probable reaction. Always leave them wanting more is taken to the extreme here. Those who don’t know the plot will be at a loss as to how it all plays out.
The back wall of the boxy stage is set with a black panel in the center and on the sides of it are flowing, weathered white curtains with Jackson Pollock-style dripped red paint, wonderfully connoting the bloody landscape. On the dark floor are black-backed chrome office chairs and a wooden red velvet throne. From the side of the stage the American cast of 15 files in and some sit and others begin the action. Later on, there are entrances and exits through the audience and occasional fraternization with audience members. Steve Wolf’s lighting design has an inspired simplicity that serves the production well.
The show’s costume consultant, fashion designer and Project Runway contestant Maya Luz’s creative vision is entrancing. Utilizing a palette of black, gray, white and red, Ms. Luz’s many contemporary garments artfully evoke the sense of the period with present day twists.
In addition to directing and conceiving the piece, in a brief appearance Pendleton also plays Henry VI while clad in a black T-shirt with a red cross. Initially overly subdued, he springs to life as he magnificently delivers a speech about the vicissitudes of life with his eyes twinkling and his voice soaring. It’s a gentle and moving turn.
Equally as impressive before soon getting killed off is Jim Broaddus as Richard’s father, the Duke of York. The mature stage veteran Mr. Broaddus is commanding as he takes center stage to effortlessly recite a long broadside with every bit of the verse flawlessly rendered. With a paper crown placed on his head and tied to the throne as he’s stabbed to death by mocking enemies, Broaddus is towering and his absence afterward is felt.
The marvelously cantankerous Carolyn Groves makes a great impression as Richard III’s mother, the Duchess of York. Stalwart Johanna Leister is spirited and has a soothing dignity as Queen Elizabeth. The alluring Rachel Marcus is a pragmatically feisty Lady Anne. As Queen Margaret, Debra Lass authoritatively becomes the play’s conscience with her engaging solidity.
The rest of the mostly youthful and strong company is comprised of Greg Pragel as Clifford and Buckingham, Michael Villastrigo as King Edward, Pete McElligott as Clarence, John Constantine as Prince Edward, The First Murderer and Grey, Milton Elliott as Warwick, The Second Murderer and Lord Stanley, John L. Payne as Brackenbury and Catesby, Adam Dodway as Tyrell and Ratcliffe, and Tomas Russo as Rutland, Dorset and Pallbearer.
Though not the most brilliant work of theater, Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III is faithful to Shakespeare, has integrity, novelty and enough superior performances to make it an overall pleasurable event.
Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III (through August 19, 2018)
124 Bank Street Theatre, 124 Bank Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.proveavillain.com
Running time: three hours including one intermission