by Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg
Now we’re getting down to the wire… We’re in our Sunday stumble-through, the last full run-through before the designer run of The War of the Roses this coming Wednesday, what Aldo Billingslea calls “the first bite of our epic apple.” And, due to the scope and size of this epic apple, it’s also the first time we’ve run the complete show, underscored with beautiful music composed and played by Josh Pollock, Byron Au Yong, and Brendan Aanes. When Eric starts to blanch at the thought, I remind him that Shakespeare’s company didn’t believe in rehearsals and periods of “discovery” at all—they would read a play through, have all but their own lines and cues taken away from them (so that they couldn’t steal the script and stage it elsewhere), and go off to “con” their lines at home. Many of them refused the one rehearsal offered, meeting their cast-mates for the first time on-stage in front of an audience of 2000. So really, I say to Eric, we could even declare ourselves over-rehearsed.
There is a battle on stage, a beautifully charged moment of movement and menace choreographed by Erika Chong Such. Aldo Billingslea, playing the Earl of Warwick, moves off-stage with his shield and sword, and I am reminded of descriptions of medieval armor which required the soldier to wear no shirt, a doublet (vest) pierced with holes for ventilation, covered by a closed-up padded jacket, a cuirass (made of multiple metal segments) to wrap around the torso, metal coverings around both legs, metal shoes, a plate skirt to cover the genitals and buttocks, a metal basinet to cover neck and chest, and a helmet to shield the face and throat, with a dagger on one side, a small knife on the other, and a sword in his hand. The entirety of medieval amour would weigh 55 pounds, evenly distributed around the body so that the soldier could remain quite agile. But he would not, as does Aldo, carry a purple cell phone, a bundle of script, and a coffee cup.
It’s fascinating to watch this production come together, built around three consecutive kings, one (Henry VI—Joseph O’Malley) who believes that warring people can be united through “love and amity;” another (Edward IV—Stacy Ross) who spends his time in lustful pleasures; and, after Intermission, a third (Richard III—Danny Scheie) who will clamber up the vacuum created by these two unsuccessful kings to rule in tyranny. The production is built around resourceful women as well, one of them Queen Margaret, whom Shakespeare tracks through all four plays in his tetralogy, a woman who battles on the field of war and, when forcibly disarmed, focuses her energies on the power she wields to curse.
If I had to think of a way to describe War of the Roses, I’d say that it is an exploration of human beings who experience love, ambition, power, and disappointment in the context of forces larger than themselves. In this world of constant threat, betrayal and warfare, everything is at stake, as characters battle each other for control over England. Writ large on England’s stage, I’m reminded of the current battles we have, not just against military powers, but (as with those on Shakespeare’s stage) against the forces of our own appetite and potent disregard. No matter where or when we live, it is human beings who create the histories from which others will dig in their struggle to create their own lives and legacies.
The War of the Roses begins performances Thursday, August 23. Get tickets here!