What’s onstage in January at Shakespeare theaters across America: The Henry VI trilogy and more

Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy is hot right now. In December, PBS broadcast The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, which adapts the three plays in two parts (and also adds Richard III, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the title character.)

Cincinnati Shakespeare
Darnell Pierre Benjamin as King Henry VI and Kelly Mengelkoch as Queen Margaret. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

Ohio’s Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has also adapted the trilogy in two parts. Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, Part 2 runs Jan 20 through Feb 11. Cincinnati’s producing artistic director, Brian Isaac Phillips, will direct the play, which features Darnell Pierre Benjamin as King Henry VI and Kelly Mengelkoch as Queen Margaret. It’s paired with the upcoming Cincy Shakes production of Richard III, which opens Feb 17. With Richard III, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company aims to become only the second theater company in the U.S. to have completed Shakespeare’s entire history cycle in order.

Seattle Shakespeare in Washington is also presenting a two-part adaption of the Henry VI plays, Bring Down the House—with an all-female ensemble! The production is a collaboration with upstart crow collective, a group dedicated to producing classical works with all-female casts for contemporary audiences. “This is the most ambitious show that we’ve ever done,” Artistic Director George Mount said at the first rehearsal.

Director Rosa Joshi, who co-adapted the plays, says, “I’m struck how the history plays capture the cynicism of leaders who are driven by very personal ambitions. These ambitions have the brutal consequences on everyday people, on families, on women and children. At its core, Henry VI is about a massive civil war fought for personal political goals.” Performances start Jan 25.

If you’re looking for classic Shakespeare tragedies, Arizona’s Southwest Shakespeare Company presents Hamlet Jan 13-28. For the 10th anniversary of its Winter Shakespeare season, Nashville Shakespeare Festival in Tennessee presents Romeo and Juliet (Jan 5-29) in a production that it says “will transport you to a unique, imagined world that fuses Verona of the 1590s with the American pop culture of the 1990s, complete with a 1990s-inspired score played live on Renaissance instruments.” As Santiago Sosa writes in his director notes for the playbill:

The appeal of two star-crossed lovers trapped in a world of passion, hate, and violence never seems to get old. We know how it ends. We know it’s not good. And yet we can’t turn away from it. The language. The love. The hope. The swordfights! The youthful exuberance and reckless abandon of these two innocent and precious souls somehow makes us feel alive again, no matter how many times we experience it. I love this play, and I hope to offer you one more chance to experience the story—as I experienced it when I first read Romeo and Juliet as a teenager 25 years ago. It was the early 90s and I was angry, sad, excited, and maudlin about everything and nothing all at once.

We’re intrigued!

On to the comedies…

For Shakespeare Miami, winter is the busy season. Its production of The Merchant of Venice is playing every weekend this month.

Starting Jan 24, Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, presents a production of As You Like It with New Orleans flair, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch and in association with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. The play features original music by Obie Award-winning composer Heather Christian.

And speaking of music, Nebraska Shakespeare has a special one-night engagement with the Omaha Symphony on Jan 27. Actors will perform selected scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by Mendelssohn’s classic score. Here they are getting ready for the big night. Break a leg!

Nebraska Shakespeare
Demetrius and Helena (Oberon looks on). (Pictured from left to right: Sarah Carlson-Brown, Joe Lullo, Taylor Jackson, Josh Ryan, and Ashley Spessard)

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Miami, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and Nebraska Shakespeare are all theater partners of the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

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