[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, August 23, 2018.]

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James Seol, John D. Haggerty, Rajesh Bose and Mahira Kakkar in “Henry VI.” Photos: William P. Steele.

In Stephen Brown-Fried’s elegant new two-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VItrilogy for Off-Broadway’s National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO), we don’t have to reach very far for present-day parallels. In this parable of power accented by gender-blind casting, a longstanding foreign war, and partisan politics inflamed by weak leaders, throw us into a world that is careening out of control.

It begins when the death of King Henry V leaves his infant son as heir. As a nation mourns, political camps vie for power, holding discussions of legacy, treason and service to the crown. As Henry VI grows older, the court is challenged to find him a bride. Who, among his protectors, counselors and advisers, will willingly hand over their power-by-proxy? Who will fight to assume power?

Among the women who splendidly assume male roles, Vanessa Kai takes on the Earl of Warwick, Anna Ishida the Duke of Somerset, Kim Wong the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Rutland, and Mia Katigbak is both embracing and terrifying as the ambitious Duke of Gloucester. The end effect is superb: we focus on the power held by the characters, not the anatomy of their players. Among the men playing male roles, perhaps ironically, we can observe multiple versions of maleness. At one extreme is Jon Norman’s Schneider’s gentle and thoughtful Henry VI, evoking a shielded scholar more than a soldier, a soul never quite suited to the crown he acquired as an infant. At the other extreme is Rajesh Bose’s Duke of York, who challenges the lineage of Henry VI, and therefore his legitimacy, through subterfuge and humor as he attempts to establish an alternative claim to the throne. When the charismatic Bose assembles a disaffected rabble and a member of the mob calls out the famous line “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” the parallels to contemporary politics comes to the fore.

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