Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Lakewood's Henry VI Just Right

Cleveland Press August 4, 1965

Even the best of Shakespeare's history plays will rank low in any list of favorites by that writer, and the least of these are the three plays "Henry VI, Part I." "Henry VI, Part II," and "Henry VI, Part III."

But "Henry VI," as offered by the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, is likely to rank right up at the top of anyone's list. This fusion by Mario Siletti of all three plays substitutes for three plodding plays -- a single one that is filed with action, emotion and moving drama.

It remains a long play but its length can be overlooked in this present production.

Siletti's condensation accounts for much of this, his direction for a good deal more and his contributions as an actor are something of an overwhelming bonus.

BUT THIS is no one-star production, for the entire cast is made up of virtuoso performers. No sooner is one excellent actor removed by banishment or death -- and they do die frequently in this play -- than another is on to create a moving scene.

There is Emery Battis as the Duke of York, a man of strength and bitterness, of rage and finally of overpowering grief. As the Earl of Suffolk there is Larry Linville, courtly and proud and insinuating. Gregory Abels in the title role gathers strength in his portrayal as the play moves along and the weak and pious king vacillates and gives in, bringing destruction.

Ruby Holbrook shows her tremendous range as an actress as Margaret, a woman of passion and fire and deep feelings. Her acting makes even more incongruous the marriage of this woman with the spiritless king.

ANN GEE BYRD captures the nuances of the shifting moods of an ambitious wife in the role of Eleanor.

Director Siletti also appears as Richard, later to become Richard III. The physical deformities of the man are suggested without being overdone. Even more important, Siletti recognizes and indicates the misshapen soul and spirit of the man.

Near the end of the play he has a speech that reveals his hatreds and ambitions. The look of unbalance is in his eyes and the tilt of his head. He falls to the stage and gropes forward toward the audience as his lines build in meaning until he nimbly swings around and is seated on the apron of the stage.

THERE ALSO is a bit of stage business that he provides at the end, a silent movement that reveals his malevolence and foreshadows the action of "Richard III."

The play is filled with moving moments -- the parting of Suffolk (Linville) and Margaret (Miss Holbrook), almost any of Battis' speeches but particularly his last.

The staging emphasizes the pageantry of the play. There also is a good deal of tumbling about in battles and assassinations and the production goes a trifle overboard in making some of these scenes as gory as possible.

The total effect is one of engrossing drama, unforgettable acting and complete entertainment.