Sunday, April 18, 2004

Company revives its 'Roses'

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nick Rose (top) and Chris Reeder from the 1999 production of The War of the Roses.
Cincinnati Shakespeare marks its 10th anniversary with a revival of the epic history The Wars of the Roses for five performances Thursday through Saturday.

The adaptation of Henry VI by founding member Chris Reeder premiered at the festival in 1999.

Wars has a massive cast of characters (the show comes with a fold-out family tree) as it follows the loving, warring, strategizing, murdering members of the royal houses of Lancaster (the red rose) and York (the white rose) who pitch England into a long civil war as they vie for the throne, occupied by Henry VI (Young Company member Bhavesh Patel). The central point of contention: can the crown be passed through the female line?)

The festival invited dozens of company veterans back for the reunion week. Former company members who will be on stage in Wars are: Toni Rae Brotons (1995-97); Giles Davies (1999-2002); Jeff Groh (1999-2000); Keland Scher (1999-2000); Jim Stump (1999-98); Billy Sweeney (1995-98); and Erik Topham (1999-2000).

For Reeder, now the artistic director of the St. Croix Festival Theatre in Wisconsin, adapting Wars had a lot to do with consolidating two-plus plays (it includes a bit of Henry V) with three major plot lines into a single evening.

The title, he says, says it all. The Wars of the Roses focuses specifically on the Lancaster/York struggle. Largely gone are France, its Hundred Years' War and Joan of Arc, and some Lancaster infighting.

"My final goal was to ensure that the history and relationships were clear. Shakespeare's history plays can be daunting for a modern American audience who are not necessarily familiar with this period and these characters."

Festival founding member Reeder remained with the company for seven years, until he accepted the Wisconsin job in 2001.

Reeder's fondest memory is of The Merchant of Venice at the end of the festival's second season. "That was the first show for me (that) there was a tangible sense that we had created something better than all of us. It was the first time I really felt the potential."

Reeder also treasured the opportunity to work in a resident ensemble where he could "measure the working relationships in terms of years rather than weeks - rare in this field."

And, he says, "seeing the theater reach its 10th anniversary alive and kicking is a pretty big thrill for me."

Jackie Demaline

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