No knowledge of English history is needed to be entertained by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s ambitious production of "Henry VI." Of the eight plays Shakespeare wrote that cover the history of England from the overthrow of Richard II through Henry VII’s victory at Bosworth Field, three are about the life and times of Henry VI. HSF founder and director Tony Pisculli has condensed them into a single three-act production that provides a fast-moving introduction to the story and some vividly drawn characters.
» Where: The Arts at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Henry VI was apparently a pious and well-meaning man but lacked the political acumen to be a successful English king. Two factions within the royal family began jockeying for position. Civil war was the result.
Several members of Pisculli’s all-female cast stand out with well-rounded performances in central roles.
Ann Brandman (Richard, Duke of York) dominates almost every scene she’s in with a richly detailed portrait of a proud man and competent political leader who feels that he is being marginalized by a weak ruler whose claim to the crown is no stronger than his own.
Michelle Y. Hurtubise (Henry VI) brings tragic undercurrents into play as we watch Henry make careless mistakes or allow himself to be distracted from the threats confronting him.
Lacey Perrine Chu (Margaret) makes a believable metamorphosis from giddy child-woman to hardened political leader as the woman Henry VI married sight unseen and at significant political cost.
Denise-Aiko Chinen (Jack Cade) provides much of the comic action as the low-born leader of a populist rebellion against Henry’s rule.
Cecilia Fordham (Lord Protector) represents the voice of experience as the king’s uncle who tries and fails to guide Henry VI through the political turmoil.
Katherine Aumer has two great roles and plays both well. She appears first as the opportunistic Duke of Suffolk, who suppresses his own lust for Margaret so that he may use her to manipulate Henry, and returns much later playing the victorious Edward IV. Aumer’s portrayals of the two men are neatly done and vividly distinct. Both stand out clearly as separate individuals, whereas some other actors’ efforts in multiple roles do not.
Julia Nakamoto (Richard, Duke of Gloucester) commands attention in Act 3 with her animated portrayal of the future Richard III. Known to Elizabethan audiences as "Richard the hunchback," crippled in body and withered in soul, possessing no redeeming qualities whatsoever, by the end of Act 3 he is already scheming to eliminate his brother and take the crown for himself.
Pisculli has done a good job condensing the epic to a length palatable for local audiences. However, with so much time devoted by necessity to the battles scenes, they become repetitive — two groups glare at each other, then yell and then go at it. The execution of the fight choreography often seemed tentative on opening night, although with the number of bladed weapons and the limited space to wield them, that is understandable.
The most problematic scene, though, was when Chu (Margaret) climbed into a trough of water fully dressed, appeared embarrassed when Aumer (Suffolk) appeared and then climbed out of the trough to continue the scene.
If the scene as written had Margaret bathing, it could have been played nude or, since this is an HSF production, in a body suit. Or the scene could have started a few lines later. When one has already cut so much to accommodate local audiences, what’s a few lines more?