Sept. 24, 2003

Theater: 'Rose Rage'
Cutting-edge Shakespeare

Brilliant. Thrilling. Visceral. Edward Hall's cutting-edge adaptation of Shakespeare's three "Henry VI" plays, "Rose Rage," is all of that and more.

First produced in the U.K. in 2001, and now remounted with a largely Chicago cast at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, Hall's adaptation keenly compacts the trilogy, focusing clearly on the personalities that created Britain's bloody 15th-century Wars of the Roses. Yet it's still a 5 1/2-hour extravaganza that costs $70.

Is it worth the time and money? For beginners, possibly not, but for anyone with a love of Shakespeare or an appreciation of British history, absolutely.

While Hall's done an exemplary job of cutting to the bone, paring away every ounce of fat to cleanly expose the people and the issues, audience members with some knowledge of either the Shakespearean original or the historical fact will be most fascinated.

As behooves this grisly story, Hall set his stunningly staged play in an abattoir, yanking it forward to the Victorian era. The players, an all-male cast of 12, begin each of the four acts clad in the white coats of meat cutters, wielding butcher knives and steels, axes and the other tools of dismemberment. These provide a clanging accompaniment to tension-filled moments, bringing the slaughterhouse theme to the foremost in the most murderous scenes, where grim, gloved and masked butchers chop offal alongside the action. (Fortunately, the box supper available at mid-play for an extra charge, offers a vegetarian option. There's also enough time for a quick meal elsewhere on the Pier, probably a better plan.)

"Phenomenal" doesn't begin to describe the acting. All the cast excels at multiple roles. Standouts include Sean Fortunato, both as the passionate Protector, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and later as vengeful young Clifford, and Joe Forbrich as the rebel Jack Cade (with a marvelous "Reformation Rap") and as the king-making, allegiance shifting Earl of Warwick. In Part Two, Jay Whittaker makes a marvelously malevolent crookbacked Richard, Duke of Gloucester, evilly bent on the course that foreshadows the sequel. But Scott Parkinson, as fearsome Queen Margaret, "she-wolf of France," gives the most enthrallingly expressive performance of all.

— Leah A. Zeldes

"Rose Rage: Henry VI Parts 1, 2, 3" continues at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, 6 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 18, with additional shows at 5:45 p.m. and Wednesdays, Oct. 8 and 22, and Tuesdays, Dec. 23 and 30. Tickets are $70; boxed meals, $16 (reserve at least 48 hours ahead). Performances take place Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. Call (312) 595-5600 or see