The War of the Roses raged from 1455 to 1487 and was a favorite period of history for Will Shakespeare. Intrigue, bloody gore, and bitter infighting between the rivals inspired several of the Bard’s best-known history plays – Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, and Richard III. Dubbed the “British Games of Thrones” by British director Trevor Nunn, Shakespeare’s War of the Roses follows 30 years of conflict between the rival Lancaster and York houses.
Jon Sprik, Melora Marshall, and Emoria Weidner – Photo by Ian Flanders
From 1154, the Plantagenet dynasty ruled England until the conclusion of the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453). With weakened Plantagenet leadership, two rival groups rose to covet the English throne in 1455 – the House of Lancaster founded by the third surviving son of Edward III (based on male lineage), and the House of York founded by the fourth surviving son of Edward III (based on female lineage). Thus began the bloody civil war pitting the two houses against each other. Where did the “roses” come from? It seems that the House of York favored a white rose on its servant’s uniform emblems, while the House of Lancaster favored a red rose for its uniforms. When Henry VI secured the throne in 1487, ending the War of the Roses – after all the potential heirs of Houses York and Lancaster died in the civil war – the House of Tudor was born, represented by an interesting combination of the two roses which preceded it.
Max Lawrence and Emoria Weidner – Photo by Kevin Hudnell
Shakespeare’s viewpoint as an author was typically from the male side of things: Which king killed which? Which murders preceded which? Which deceptions targeted whom? In the middle of the melee was Queen Margaret, wife of milquetoast King Henry VI, whose life was sorely upended during the continuing conflicts. Now audiences will have the opportunity to see the ladies’ side in all this brutal fighting and jockeying for position – courtesy of Queen Margaret and Theatricum Botanicum’s Ellen Geer, who compiled all of the chaos into one unit.
Claire Simba, Daniel Ramirez, and Rhett Curry – Photo by Kevin Hudnell
The time is the mid fifteenth century, and the places are France and England. A young, pretty, and rather canny Margaret of Anjou (France) (Melora Marshall) has managed to become the bride of Henry VI of England (Emoria Weidner) – even without a dowry – courtesy of her ability to read royalty and manipulate all the right people, especially the spineless king. But soon Queen Margaret must navigate the machinations of the Duke of York (Max Lawrence), the Duke of Gloucester (Franc Ross), the Duke of Somerset (Tim Halligan), Kingmaker Warwick (Colin Guthrie), and finally Richard (Jon Sprik), an ambitious gent who doesn’t let a club foot get in his way to the throne. Along the way, Queen Margaret must deal with the uppity Duchess Eleanor (Willow Geer), the Duchess of York (Cynthia Kania), Lady Anne (Claire Simba), and Annette (Sara Carpenter). As well as everybody’s kids, who prove to be strategic chess pieces in the bloody game.
Jon Sprik and Melora Marshall l- Photo by Ian Flanders
Skillfully directed by Ellen Geer, the talented ensemble cast are kept jumping as they maneuver the competition with no real rules and fewer ethical or moral considerations in order to gain ultimate control, often dying under questionable circumstances as they attempt to keep the battles going for 30 years. Swashbuckling action is woven into undercover intrigues while too many people share the same goal, a goal where there can be only one winner. The production team does its best to keep up with the story, and especially Cavin Mohrhardt, fight coordinator, deserves special kudos. Shon LeBlanc and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes help the audience to identify who’s who, and Charles Glaudini’s sound and Zachary Moor’s lighting add to the fun. QUEEN MARGARET’S VERSION OF SHAKESPEARE’S WAR OF THE ROSES is a fascinating study of how one achieved political power, circa 1400. Sometimes the action may become a little blurred as death and destruction ignite and re-ignite – but this is still an intriguing study of palace life seven centuries ago.
Willow Geer and Quinnlyn Scheppner – Photo by Kevin Hudnell
QUEEN MARGARET’S VERSION OF SHAKESPEARE’S WAR OF THE ROSES runs through October 1, 2023, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays (6/24, 7/1, 7/8, 7/16, 8/12, 9/9), at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays (7/16, 7/23, 7/30, 8/27, 9/3, 9/24, 10/1), at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (8/18), and at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday (9/17). Pre-show discussion on Saturday, 8/12 from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $30 to $60 (seniors, students, military veterans, teachers, AEA members $35/$20; children to 15 $15; children under 4 free; Pay-What-You-Will on Friday 8/18 at 7:30 p.m.) For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.