Shakespeare Unplugged: Judith Shakespeare's The History Cycle (Henry IV, parts 1&2)
Jose Quintero, NYC
Now in it's seventh season, The Judith Shakespeare Company is presenting Phase One of the History Cycle under the steady eye and ear of the Artistic Director, Joanne Zipay. The MTV concept of "unplugged" translates here to something less than a full production but something much more than a staged reading.
Ms. Zipay, for these "concert performances," seems extremely interested in the focusing on the text in all of its intricacies and nuances. But she has not abandoned the company's purpose of "re-examining the roles for women in the classical theatre," although I think that here she has succeed in examining the roles of both men and women in these plays.
In both Henry IV, Parts One and Two, women take on the major roles of King Richard, Prince Hal, Westmoreland, Hotspur, John of Gaunt, Falstaff and Bolingbrooke, as well as others.
Of note, Jane Titus (Bollingbrook), Vicki Hirsch (Westmorland), Sheriden Thomas (Falstaff) seem to understand the concept of women playing the roles traditionally played by men rather than role reversal. These veterans of the Judith Shakespeare Company make it easy to forget the gender of the characters and pay attention to the text and the story.
Ms. Zipay also has men taking on the roles normally played by women. The most successful is the deliciously naughty Vince Gatton (Doll Tearsheet) who, along with the baudy Sheriden Thomas (Falstaff), brings their playful scene alive and nearly runs away with the show. Mr. Gatton, doubtless with the help of Ms. Thomas and Ms. Zipay, lives every moment. He could hold his own to any woman playing that role.
Ms. Zipay has, for the most part, found women who make the concept work and the play come alive. Noteworthy work, along with Mr. Gatton, is that of Kevin Till, David Huber, and Peter Zazzali.
There are suggested costume pieces, all black with touches of red to signify royalty, and minimal blocking but this is all to further the idea of making Shakespeare understandable and accessible to both the novice audience member and the Bard-timid actor.
PJ Merola (Composer and Percussionist) provides musical and sound punctuation that lends a polish to the production.
If this is Phase One of the History Cycle, it should be important to all actors and students studying Shakespeare, to try to see as many of the plays in the Cycle as they can. Ms. Zipay should take a page from the Public Theatre and attempt all of the Shakespeare plays in this fashion.
Reviewer: Catherine Lamm