The idea behind Queen Margaret's Version of Shakespeare's War of the Roses (which is major mouthful) seems to me an extremely clever and admirable one. Take a major female character who exists in three or four of the history plays and edit the scenes together to create a play about a queen, rather than a king! Very good idea! In fact, I know it has been done before with precisely the same character--Henry VI's queen Margaret of Anjou.
This version does not work. I want to note right off the bat this is not in any way a problem with the cast, many of whom do very fine jobs. No, I have put it down to three specific errors.
First, the script is unfocused in a big way. It seems to entirely seek to put as much of the plot of all four plays as feasible on stage--a nice lesson in why such total devotion to plot is often a bad idea. In theory this is Margaret's story, but most of the action takes place without her presence or even mention, especially in Act Two. Because the script tries to tell the story of the Wars (notice the plural? And as a matter of historical trivia, no one at the time or in Shakespeare's lifetime ever called them that) in total, rather than tell Margaret's story amid that conflict. We don't get to know Margaret very well at all, or indeed anyone. Character and drama was sacrificed in favor of plot.
Second, the direction leaned into this problem. There was hardly a single pause in close to two and a half hours of theatre. Everything was not only at breakneck speed to get every single plot point (whether it mattered or not) on stage, without a seeming moment to react with any kind of depth, but they have clearly been directed to portray only two emotions for over nine out of every ten minutes. Mostly, anger, the cheapest and least nuanced emotion one usually sees on stage. The other is wailing grief, all like the anger we see, pretty much one note.
This was boring. And grating. I liked very nearly no one on stage, with the possible exceptions of Henry VI (Emoria Weidner) and Duke Humphrey (Franc Ross). I almost liked Lady Anne (Claire Simba). There was a lot of talent on that stage but it seemed like it was written and directed to only give those three moments of sympathy.
Never once did I feel for the central character, Margaret of Anjou. Not once. That is a problem. I did not even hate her.
Finally, this show desperately needed some good fight choreography. One half of one fight (out of at least ten) seemed interesting at all, namely the last one in which people froze and moved in slow motion in between some great lines by Richard III (note--NOT Margaret). The rest of it looked awkward at best.
I hate writing a review like this.
War of the Roses plays Sunday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.*, Friday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m.**, Sunday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga CA 90290
*Prologue (pre-show discussion):Saturday, Aug. 12 from 6:30 p.m.–7 p.m.
**Pay-What-You-Will performance on Friday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. (cash only at the door)