Monday, October 22 , 2018, 10:44 pm | Fair 58º


Gerald Carpenter: Lit Moon Gives Us ‘Henry VI, Part 3’ Times 2

Westmont College will host two performances of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 on the same day, both in Porter Hall, both directed by Westmont's resident theatrical genius, John Blondell, but by a different company (Lit Moon Theatre Company or Bitola National Theatre of Macedonia), and each in a different language (English or Macedonian).

The Lit Moon production starts at 2 p.m. Sunday, and the curtain rises on the Bitola Theatre production at 7 p.m.

As Lit Moon tells it: "The project is the culmination of director John Blondell’s more than two-year odyssey with the play that began as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad at Shakespeare’s Globe. The Bitola National Theatre participated in the Globe to Globe Festival, which presented all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 different languages. In anticipation of the Bitola production, Blondell and Lit Moon Theatre Company staged the play in February 2012 in Santa Barbara.

"Blondell says the endeavor will come full circle with Lit Moon and Bitola showing varying versions of Henry VI back to back."

“The play presents events in the Wars of the Roses," Blondell added, "a dynastic and civil war that took place in England from 1450 to 1485. Both productions show the virtues of a wild, eccentric and vividly drawn play — both are something of a thrill ride, and both display the strengths of each company to a high degree. They are also very different — although they share the same essential DNA, they feel different and display varying approaches to character, situation, music and atmosphere.”

The family that ruled England from 1154 until 1485 is known to history as the Plantagenets, although the name did not become official until 1460, when Richard, the Duke of York, claimed the throne under the name “Richard Plantagenet.” Unofficially, however, they were known as Plantagenets ever since Geoffrey, Duke of Anjou, married Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I, the last direct male descendent of William the Conqueror. Geoffrey was known for his signature habit of wearing a sprig of planta genista — a yellow flower related to scotch broom — in his cap. Geoffrey and Matilda’s son took the English throne in 1154 to become King Henry II (Peter O’Toole), the first Plantagenet king of England.

By the 15th century, the Plantagenets, had forked into two main septs: the House of York, which had a white rose as its heraldic emblem, and the House of Lancaster, whose emblem was a red rose. After Henry Bolingbroke, the second Duke of Lancaster (his father, John of Gaunt, was the first), deposed and murdered his cousin, King Richard II in 1399, becoming Henry IV (John Gielgud). The spectacular military successes — especially Agincourt — of his son, Henry V (Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh) kept the peace between York and Lancaster until Henry died, leaving his son, Henry VI of this play, a minor. Then the War of Roses broke out in earnest, and did not end until John of Gaunt’s great grandson, Henry Tudor, killed King Richard III (Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, Al Pacino) at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, becoming Henry VII.

Henry VI has the reputation of a weak king, but I find him a sympathetic character. He is the founder of the College of the Blessed Mary, known today as Eton, and the author of a poignant poem in three stanzas that begins:

“Kingdoms are but cares

“States are devoid of stay

“Riches are ready snares

“And hasten to decay.”

Henry VI, Part 3 tells a very exciting story. It has four battle scenes on stage, and a fifth that is reported. One of the onstage battles, the Battle of Towton (March 29, 1461) was "the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil." The play also contains the longest soliloquy in the entire Shakespeare canon, which has an interesting afterlife.

Between 1945 and 1955, Sir Lawrence Olivier produced, directed, and starred in three three films of Shakespeare plays — Henry V (1945); Hamlet (1948); Richard III (1955) — that defined Shakespeare for at least two generations, we post-War Baby Boomers and our parents. Olivier's Henry V was a stirring inspiration to wartime England. His Hamlet is the most romantic Shakespeare ever put on screen, not excepting even Zefferelli's Romneo and Juliet. And his Richard III set the standard for all time for irresistable villainy. Richard has a great soliloquy in the first act that begins "Now is the winter of our discontent ..." Olivier, not content with this stunning speech, tacked on a full three-fourths of the same character's speech in Henry VI, Part 3 you know, "the longest soliloquy in ... Shakespeare"? The result is an unparalleled tour de force, with the two speeches seamlessly joined in a veritable aria of malice and bad faith:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,

And cry 'Content' to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions.

I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;

I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk;

I'll play the orator as well as Nestor,

Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,

And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.

I can add colours to the chameleon,

Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,

And set the murderous Machiavel to school.

Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?

Tut, were it farther off, I'll pluck it down.

General admission tickets to Lit Moon’s production are $15; tickets for students and seniors are $10. Tickets for the Bitola National Theatre production are free, although reservations are recommended. Click here to reserve tickets online for pickup at the Porter Hall door. 

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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