It had been far too long since I had seen a play at the Race Street home of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (though I’ve since enjoyed many Shakespeare in the Park productions). So this past Christmas I told my family that all I really wanted was a ticket or two, which led to a wonderful and memorable evening with my daughter last Friday for the CSC performance of Henry VI, Part 2. The CSC will soon become only the second company in the USA to complete Shakespeare’s entire history cycle in chronological order. I was surprised to see this “Part Two” (which is really part of Part 2 combined with Part 3) begin with York’s Act 3 soliloquy, from which it jumped right into Jack Cade’s rebellion. Fascinating.
Matt Johnson, one of my favorite CSC actors from way back, played Cade as a Candidate Trump figure (his partisans chanted “lock him up, lock him up,” at one point). It was great theater, and I was happy to see some of the scenes that are usually cut from the Henry VI/Richard III tetralogy. Johnson, in fact, provided many of the play’s best moments, ably portraying Cade, “Father,” Exeter, and King Lewis of France.
Darnell Pierre Benjamin pulled off the title role, which I think is one of the toughest Shakespeare leads. Giles Davies displayed skills born of long and broad experience in the demanding role of York as well as Mortimer and Stanley (and, that night, filling in as Lady Bona, which he played straight, making it all the more hilarious). Billy Chace’s performance as Richard of Gloucester earned a whispered “creepy” from my daughter (though I thought his lurching walk was often more comical than sinister). Kelly Mengelkoch’s Margaret was thoroughly commanding, but I thought Brent Vimtrup’s Earl of Warwick lacked the presence and power the “Kingmaker” deserves. And while Kyle Brumley always does a fine acting job, his youthful appearance and mien made George, Duke of Clarence, seem younger than Gloucester.
The entire production (in three acts) was delightful and absorbing, like every CSC show I’ve seen, and was staged in the style of Game of Thrones–which is an apt description of the play’s back-and-forth War-of-Roses this-king-no-that-king action.