It is part of the enduring enigma of Shakespeare’s legacy that one of his least performed plays — Henry VI, Part 3 — should also be among his most influential. And don’t be too quick to dismiss this claim with appeals to Hamlet, Lear, or Macbeth. Richard of Gloucester, the Machiavellian antihero who becomes Richard III, and Queen Margaret, the original tiger woman, both either get their start (Richard) or come into their own (Margaret) in this play, and both wind up at the head of a long line of influential Shakespearean types, stretching from Lady Macbeth to Iago. On Friday night at Center Stage Theater, the Lit Moon Theatre Company, under the direction of Westmont’s John Blondell, will offer a brand-new interpretation of Henry VI, Part 3 in anticipation of Blondell’s upcoming Macedonian production, which will be performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London as part of this spring’s Cultural Olympiad. The story of how this remarkable sequence came to be is, in its own way, as fascinating as Shakespeare’s play, and now as a result, we get to enjoy both — Henry VI, Part 3 in all its glory, and “The Making of the Macedonian Henry VI, Part 3, with a Little Help from Lit Moon.”
The second story begins with a dinner at the Blondell residence in Montecito, just a few hundred yards from the Westmont campus. That’s where the director of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Dominic Dromgoole, first met Blondell back in 2009. “The Globe was touring the United States with their production of Love’s Labour’s Lost,” recalled Blondell when I spoke with him recently, “and I invited Dromgoole and the whole company to my house to meet some of my actors from Lit Moon and some of my students from the Westmont theater program.” It was at that fateful meal that Blondell first learned of Dromgoole’s plan to create an unprecedented international Shakespeare festival in time for the 2012 Olympics in London. “He told me that he wanted to produce the 38 plays in 38 different languages for the Cultural Olympiad” said Blondell, “and I remember thinking that ‘wow, that’s something I would really like to be a part of.’”
Santa Barbara theatergoers will, of course, know why Blondell was so interested. In the last decade, with his Lit Moon International Shakespeare and International Theater Festivals, he’s brought productions of Shakespeare to S.B. in every conceivable language. And he has been traveling, as well, mostly to Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where he has developed a major reputation and presence as an innovative director, particularly, although not exclusively, of Shakespeare. During the next two years, as the Globe’s plans for the Cultural Olympiad took shape, Blondell and Dromgoole stayed in touch, and Blondell, as he puts it, just “kept raising my hand.”
“The first offer was to direct all three of the Henry VI plays with three different companies from the Balkans,” said Blondell, “but I wanted to stay married, so I countered by saying that I would do one.” In time, as Dromgoole and his managing director for the project, Tom Bird, went forward, Blondell began to play a prominent role in the planning of this aspect of the festival, which will take place for six weeks beginning on April 23.
Before he heads to Skopje, Macedonia, where he will rehearse his Macedonian cast, Blondell plans to present his vision for this production here, at the Center Stage Theater in Paseo Nuevo, with a group of actors drawn from both his Lit Moon troupe and from the community. He sees this production as more than a dry run, though, and anticipates returning to the cast and the production following his experience in London. “The play has been harder to cut than Hamlet,” Blondell told me, referring to the delicate task he faces in bringing the original’s four-hour-plus text into a shape that will work for a modern audience. “It’s truly archetypal, and Shakespeare has distributed the sense of a main character over five separate roles.” Ultimately, Henry VI, Part 3, with its themes of the deconsecration of sovereignty and the murderous impact of civil war on the family, will hit home with not only audiences familiar with the conflicts in the Balkans but also Americans who are currently witnessing an era of desperate polarization along party lines. “It’s in strong contrast to the nationalistic tendencies of the Henry IV plays,” said Blondell, “and you can’t help but be drawn in to the vacuum of power.”
Henry VI, Part 3 is at Center Stage Friday-Saturday, February 17-18, and Thursday-Saturday, February 23-25. For tickets and information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org. For more on Blondell, visit litmoon.com.