Bring Down the House: Part 2: Crusade of Chaos

Seattle Shakespeare working in collaboration with “upstart crow collective” here offers part two of their adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy. It’s a bold and ambitious undertaking, adapted by Rosa Joshi and Kate Wisniewski, and directed by Rosa Joshi.

Most of us are familiar with the history of the War of the Roses, the 15th Century conflict between the Yorkites and the Lancastrians for the British throne. Both were noble lines; both were convinced their man was the rightful heir to the throne, and, as in much of English history, their combat was marked by deceit, treachery, vicious fighting, and outsized egos. It’s all captured on this stage.

Heads are chopped off. Blood, quite a bit of it, is spilled. Drums boom, and the battles are accompanied by howls and screams. It’s realistic noise I would guess, and for those who love Shakespeare, these two offerings are thrilling to see. For others, they may be more than a bit too loud.

Center House Theatre is a relatively small space, not one well designed for arena-sized noise. I found the sound to be overwhelming. The all female cast is very good, but women’s voices when raised as loud as they can go have none of the deep tones possessed by so many men. Unfortunately much of what you hear is shrill. For me it was almost ear splitting. In a larger venue it would have worked better.

As in Part I of this theatrical duo, the acting is excellent. The scenic design (Shawn Ketchum Johnson) makes much of little and does it incredibly effectively. Straight back chairs combined with what looks like a kitchen table create a powerful throne when the action demands it. So much else is suggested by minimalist staging. And Geoff Korf’s lighting reinforces mood throughout.

I’m not sure either of these plays provided any new insights by having an all women cast, but I certainly appreciated the opportunity to see women playing these powerful roles. Wasn’t it true in Shakespeare’s day that all the actors on stage were men? Well, here we see just what talented women can do with male roles.

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

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