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Cal Shakes’ stunning ‘War of the Roses’ closes Sept. 15

September 12, 2018

Review by Wanda Sabir

Cal Shakes’ stunning production of “The War of the Roses” by Eric Ting and Philippa Kelly, directed by Eric Ting, continues through Sept. 15. It is an amazing adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. I was not intimidated when I learned that the show was about four hours long. However, I did approach my seat cautiously and, at intermission, when I looked at my watch, I could hardly believe two hours had passed.

I loved it. The time literally flew by. I loved Aldo Billingslea’s character, Earl of Warwick, Kingmaker. Note, I am a Billingslea fan – he walks on water and levitates (smile). His Warwick is a great strategist given what he had to work with – the boy-King Henry (Joseph Patrick-O’Malley), a softie. While Queen Margaret (Aysan Celik) – wow, such a beast. She is crazy-well-played by Celik.

Her Queen is unbelievably fierce, brutal. The woman kills children, roasts them, then serves them up to a parent on a platter. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (Jomar Tagatac), is undone. He is such a great father – love his interaction with his boys. How dare Margaret weep when her son, Prince Edward or Ned (Marie Sadd), who might have been another’s child, is killed.

I was happy the queen has to live with her wrongs. In a story with little justice, this is one for the home team – if one exists in “The War of the Roses.” When I saw Richard III at African American Shakes, I did not know why Queen Margaret was mad. Roses clears up all that missing history.

These white people are insane – OK, I said it. Now why would I suggest anyone spend her hard earned four hours on such a saga? Well, it helps explain the lineage #45 is a part of. He comes by it honestly, as do the Brett Kavanaugh-esque phenomena. Both are “fake” human beings. No sensate presence in their collective being. If the goal is to be all-powerful, then the only character who wants it more than Richard is Margaret, but she’s a woman and, well, easily outranked and undone.

Trump is evil as is King Richard, Queen Margaret, the Earl of Suffolk. There is not much to recommend many of the hysteria-torical characters revived for this “War.” The problem is, these entities still walk the planet and so we have to beware. Though “War” reads like something from a TV script, these guys and dolls once peopled this place and today their philosophical heirs still hold enormous power.

Evil is not sensible, and Richard (Danny Scheie) is so cunning. I love it when Buckingham (Billingslea again) decides to cut his losses and leave his king while he still has his head.

I could see “Roses” again if I had four more hours to spare, which I do not (smile). Oh, the music, live accompaniment, costumes, literal metaphors like the roses – red and white. The upper room or tower, the severed head – all great moments. Queen Margaret’s boyfriend, Earl of Suffolk (Lance Gardner), deserved to lose his head.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. It is also a story which makes one question one’s stance on the death penalty. People are dying so quickly, judgment happens swiftly without sufficient evidence. Courts are headed by crooked clerics – the king just a figurehead.

I could see “Roses” again if I had four more hours to spare, which I do not (smile). Oh, the music, live accompaniment, costumes, literal metaphors like the roses – red and white.

Aysan Celik, Danny Scheie and Aldo Billingslea in the Cal Shakes production of “The War of the Roses” – Photo: Kevin Berne

I also loved Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector (Stacy Ross); he is a loyal soldier to the end, even when he knows he is not going to get justice or see daybreak. He loves his wife too and sees she is not spared either. The women in the House of Lancaster, the House of York, the Woodvilles – all have much to curse, and they do in the theatre aisles, on stage and as they step off into the shadows muttering.

Actress Sarita Ocón’s Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, when she is slapped, and Catherine Luedtke’s Lady Elizabeth Grey, later Edward’s queen, when she accepts his twisted proposal – all have much to protest. The banter between King Edward and Lady Elizabeth is funny. The implications are not, but what a king wants, he gets. Edward is decadent and lewd. He loves sex. This is a backstory I’d missed in Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

King Henry (Joseph Patrick O’Malley), is no match for the villainy in his court. In the end, no one pretends anymore; they just run over him. When he agrees to give up his crown to his opposition, his naiveté is never more obvious. Doesn’t he know whom he was married to? His insight comes too late.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. It is also a story which makes one question one’s stance on the death penalty. People are dying so quickly, judgment happens swiftly without sufficient evidence. Courts are headed by crooked clerics – the king just a figurehead.

Richard is not subtle in his gradual take over, yet despite his double-talk, everyone is fooled. He has no shame, even when his mother witnesses publicly to the aberration she’s birthed. He absorbs curses because he knows he is undefeated and perhaps unbeatable if he can kill all his opponents before they get him. He knows he is not all powerful … well, maybe not. Perhaps in the back of his mind he knows that eventually someone he has forgotten or let slip through will be the full-stop to his journey. Lies don’t become truths just because a person wants them to.

How this king continues to get an audience once everyone near knows his treachery is one of the reasons why the time flies. The audience thinks it can’t get any worse and it does. For some reason these Christians, Richard’s flock, still believe in redemption. Redemption and remorse are tied together philosophically. Richard moves with stealth and intention. All of his moves are wrought from a paranoid sense of entitlement and self-worth.

The live musical performances and score, especially the musician on stage, adds to the intrigue, which while complex is not hard to follow even as actors change hats and stockings as one character is killed and another born. The lighting and staging are so amazing: color, costume and scenic design combined with a soundtrack that chills one’s spine as she turns in her seat as characters appeared from behind and next to her.

The use of the theatre space is indicative of the grand or epic narrative unfolding. There is even an opening musical interlude to set the mood to capture errant but strategic cinematic moments during the production. The play becomes a film almost … it’s that reel (smile). Maybe, I might find four hours somewhere and get back before closing Sept. 15. Visit Cal Shakes for tickets and showtimes.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.

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