Seattle Shakespeare Company is currently presenting a two-installment adaptation of the Henry VI trilogy, which they’ve titled Bring Down the House.
Directed by Rosa Joshi — whom I interviewed three years ago about her brilliant Richard II (also for Seattle Shakes) — it features an all-female cast and is deftly paced and riveting throughout.
Along with Mari Nelson’s fiercely magnetic York and Sarah Harlett’s wickedly charismatic turn as a young, already restlessly scheming Richard III, I especially admired Peggy Gannon’s versatility in playing both Edward IV and the rabble-rouser Jack Cade, evoking a certain presidential blowhard in her portrayal of the latter.
Not that it requires any untoward exaggeration. Shakespeare seems to have anticipated the demagogic power that now so tragically holds sway:
Be it known unto thee by these presence, even the presence of Lord Mortimer, that I
am the besom that must sweep the court clean of such
filth as thou art. Thou hast most traitorously
corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a
grammar school; and whereas, before, our forefathers
had no other books but the score and the tally, thou
hast caused printing to be used, and, contrary to
the king, his crown and dignity, thou hast built a
paper-mill. It will be proved to thy face that thou
hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and
a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian
ear can endure to hear. Thou hast appointed
justices of peace, to call poor men before them
about matters they were not able to answer.
Moreover, thou hast put them in prison; and because
they could not read, thou hast hanged them; when,
indeed, only for that cause they have been most
worthy to live. Thou dost ride in a foot-cloth, dost thou not?
—History of Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, scene vii