“Bring Down the House” Part 1: Throne of Treachery – Seattle Shakespeare Brings Us an All Women Production of Henry VI

The cast of Bring Down the House Photo by John Ulman

You’ll see no bright colors here, no joyful tints. This is a solemn exploration of vanity, ambition, and treachery, and it’s presented on a predominantly grey stage with the full cast dressed in tones of grey and black. And yes, the entire cast is female, and it works! Not only does the all female casting bring fresh talent to roles that would ordinarily never be theirs, but it offers new insights into Shakespeare’s trilogy.

Power is the central theme. How timely to experience Shakespeare’s exploration of the struggle to attain power, the destructive impact of that effort, and the fact that once one achieves it, it’s not always what one thought it would be. Personal ambition and ruthlessness rarely get one just what is wanted. Too often they result in havoc, in societal disruption. The price becomes very high!

Rosa Joshi and Kate Wisniewski of upstart crow collective created this adaptation that reduces Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy to a two-part presentation. Early on cast members sport roses on their lapels, red for Lancaster, white for York. Ahha! This is the period of The War of the Roses, and the nobility must take sides. Things aren’t going well in France; the warring English lords try to figure out who will ascend the throne; and what role will Princess Margaret of Anjou play, especially with the scheming Duke of Suffolk as her lover. Plots against plots, perfidy, murder, revolts. They led busy lives these titled and conniving people.

It requires rapt attention to follow the various storylines (the Henry VI plays are not Shakespeare’s easiest) yet the action on the stage commands respect, even awe. Shawn Ketchum Johnson’s scenic design proves you can say a lot with minimal props, especially when the lighting is as significant as is Geoff Korf’s.

Special praise is due to Mary Ann Owen who joined the cast in a key role less than a week before opening. She replaced Suzanne Bouchard who sustained an injury.

The tale is, of course, incomplete, until the rest of the story plays out in Part 2 “Crusade of Chaos” that opens Feb. 3 and will then play in tandem with this.

Through March 12, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (206-733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org).

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