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The Wars of the Roses Review

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
So imagine you’re an actor and a director approaches you with a proposition. “How would you like to play a dozen different roles, male and female, young and old, in eight different shows? By the way, you’ll be performing these shows on the same day.” You’d question their sanity, right? Thankfully eight Indiana performers decided to embrace the challenge instead of calling the men in the white coats. The fact that this idea, born more than a year ago, became a reality is incredible. 
The eight plays, listed below, have each been condensed into a single hour, a huge feat accomplished by Maria Souza. The result is a whirlwind of action; the fat is trimmed away and audience members are left with the core of each plot in a relatively easy to follow format. Catherine Cardwell, Polly Heinkel, and Thomas Cardwell each tackle the direction of a couple shows. Their styles work well together and there’s no drastic shift between the plays.   

The cast is made up of Zachariah Steonrock, Frankie Bolda, Matt Anderson, Sarah Froehlke, Jeremy Grimmer, and Zack Neiditch. It’s worth mentioning every single name because all eight actors perform in each play and each one has at least one show in which they truly have a chance to shine. They slip in and out of each character’s mannerisms without missing a beat. They juggle a crazy number of switches and huge number of lines (some in French!) with ease, rarely stumbling over a line or two.

The versatile set is another triumph. Designing something that will work for eight different shows is a challenge and the solution was a combination throne room, balcony and tavern table. The actors have multiple entrances and exits to keep the flow moving smoothly. The shows are not specific to a time period. Each of the actors has a base costume that is changed a dozen times throughout the festival with the addition of a scarf, vest, hat, colored ribbon or coat. The system works well and the decision not to focus on period costumes was a smart one. Leaving guns out of the equation is the only adjustment I would have made. They weren’t used consistently and so their occasional appearance seemed odd.  

The Plays

Richard II: The first king of the series loses his thrown quickly, setting the stage for the fight for power. His successor never wanted Richard II to die and so the victory is bittersweet. 

Henry IV Part I: The king’s son, Hal, is a major player in this show. He and his infamous friend Falstaff don’t seem to take anything seriously, despite the situation around them. Henry IV struggles to adjust to his new found power while worrying that his son won’t be able to handle the crown when it becomes his.

Henry IV Part II: The fallout from the battle at the end of the last play is dealt with in this show. A transition is power is approaching, but it won’t be an easy one. Hal is beginning to understand the seriousness of the task of ruling.  

Henry V: This play is perhaps the best known of the histories because of its famous lines and battle scenes. I was happy to see the sweet scene between Henry V and his French bride-to-be play out so beautifully.

Henry VI Part I: Joan of Arc makes an appearance in Shakespeare, who knew? This play also includes the famous scene that gave the festival its name. Each side must pick a white or red rose to show where their allegiance lies.

Henry VI Part II: Don’t mess with necromancy. Gloucester's wife makes this mistake and sets up a whole world of trouble for the court as certain Lords use Gloucester's disgrace as a weapon against him. Queen Margaret is wonderful in this play, manipulating her young husband in ways that would make Lady Macbeth proud.

Henry VI Part III: Queen Margaret is forced to take things into her own hands when her husband, the title character, gives into political pressure. She is described in one scene in this way, “O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide.” Allegiances shift incredibly fast in this show as Henry VI’s lack of strength becomes obvious to everyone around him.

Richard III: This twisted title character is the ultimate in back-stabbing manipulations. He’s completely detached from reality and has only one goal in his world, become the King of England. Anyone who gets in the way of that is in trouble.

There are shows in the festival that are stronger than others, but it’s the experience of seeing the shows back-to-back in chronological order that makes this such a remarkable production. Each one informs the next, setting up major plot points that are hard to understand if you miss the context provided by the previous show. If EclecticPond ever tackles something like this again I hope they’ll include a family tree in the program, because that would be so helpful in following the every changing sides of the war.

I’d be shocked if you could find a better pairing of the gorgeous language of Shakespeare and the sharp political sparing that has become increasingly popular in shows like “House of Cards” and Game of Thrones.” You have two weekends left to make it to The Wars of the Roses. Go for one show or go for all eight, just go! You’ll be able to get a concentrated dose of Shakespeare and learn a bit of world history while you’re at it.

“Virtue is choked with foul ambition.”

Don’t miss your chance to see the War of the Roses for yourself. Performances run from June 6 to June 28. Tickets are only $10 per show or $40 for a festival pass, which allows you to see all eight shows. Each performance will be held at the Irvington Lodge, 5515 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN, 46219. For more information, a complete schedule of the shows or to purchase tickets, visit ETC’s site here.
Photos Courtesy of the EclecticPond Theatre Company