Way back in the spring of 2016, before you know who became the you know what, the UCSB Theater program staged an epic two-part adaptation of all eight Shakespeare history plays, covering everything from Richard II and Henrys IV and V in part one, and from Henry VI to the rise and fall of Richard III in part two. The extraordinary script and concept were the work of Irwin Appel, current chair of the UCSB BFA theater program and longtime director of Naked Shakes, the school’s resident Shakespeare company. Over the summer of 2017, an abbreviated version of the show, originally conceived as a “trailer” for the full-length performance, traveled to Prague, where it was presented as part of that city’s summer Shakespeare Intensive.
A sharp-eyed scout for the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, who saw the show in Prague booked the 90-minute version, now known as The Death of Kings: Seize the Crown, for their spring 2019 season. Now cast entirely with graduating seniors in the UCSB BFA theater program, the show ran for two performances last weekend before traveling to Arizona.
While it’s no substitute for the full-length piece, Seize the Crownnevertheless delivers an exciting “greatest hits” style approach to the history plays and makes a great introduction not only to the material, but also to the vivid and moving approach that characterizes all Naked Shakes productions. Steven Armstrong is a wonderful Prince Hal, and Jason Bowe makes the challenging task of playing both Henry Bolingbroke and Falstaff look not only easy but fun. Taylor Tuers makes a hilarious and devilishly clever turn out of Princess Katherine of France’s famous dialogue with Henry V, and Oliver Rubey is as crafty and loathsome a Richard III as anyone could ask for. Let’s hope that the interest aroused by the trailer leads to a remounting of the long version soon.