compelling
 

thoughtfully constructed and performed. 

                     
The good news about the de-emphasis on production values is that the acting, much of it outstanding, comes to the fore. 
                      
As Richard III, Matt de Rogatis must carry the show, and he does, neither caricaturing nor hiding his character's formative deformity. He instead uses it to magnify his words and feelings, as when he jerks his crooked arm upward while voicing his intent to pluck the crown.
                       
Rivaling him in resourcefulness is Johanna Leister as Queen Elizabeth, who, by merely modulating her voice, can go from charming Richard's brother Edward to bitterly mocking Richard. 
                       
Debra Lass, as Henry's wife and then widow, also displays ingenuity. Murmuring many of her cruelties rather than screeching them, she turns the "ruthless queen" that Richard's father sees into an object of sympathy. 



Matt de Rogatis’ colorfully animated portrayal of the deranged crown-hungry villain steals the show with his  explosive energy and dynamic physical and vocal performance. 
 

There are support ing characters worth exclusive praise, more specifically Jim Broa d dus as York. Though brief, his delivery and physical subtleties ooze with actor experience and will instantly win your attention. 
 

This is a small off-broadway theater experience with the ambition and heart of a feature film studio. 
 

Austin Pendleton successfully combines two Shakespearean plays in  Wars of the Roses: Henry VI & Richard III,  bringing the best of actor’s theater to the stage. 

With Austin Pendleton’s direction, the company is completely engaged in the moment. 

 

The dagger fights are expressive, sometimes in slow motion, and perfectly choreographed. 
 

Performing in the theater right next to HB Studios, these actors, Co-Directed by Peter Bloch, find a way to enchant colleagues and fans alike. "
 

With splattered shirts, crosses, silver belts, characteristic rings, and a few crowns ...the costumes are snappy... inspired by Maya Luz. ... having previously appeared on the popular television show,  Project Runway . 

 

With a claw of a hand and a hump on his back, Matt de Rogatis  finds the drama, not in Richard’s limp but his determined gaze and outreached hand. Longer monologues carry the audience through the end of the show (and) h is incessant need for his more grotesque qualities to be recognized are matched by his desire to claim the throne .  
 

The scene between Richard III and Queen Elizabeth, played by Matt de Rogatis and Johanna Leister, is particularly potent, and the tête-à-tête toward the end of the play is not to be missed ! 
 

The stormy match between Richard and King Edward's widow Queen Elizabeth is the highpoint of the production due to the brilliant scene work by (Matt)  de Rogatis and (Johanna) Leister. 
 


Congratulations to Rachel Marcus for the subtle changes of expression from hate to potential affection that she      evinces as Lady Anne when being wooed and won by the cruelly manipulative Richard. Among other accomplishments, she manages to suggest the pain underlying her succumbing to his wiles.
 

Pete McElligott is doomed Clarence—knifed and then dumped in a barrel of malmsey—who foresees his death in a dream. McElligott’s rendition of the speech about the nightmare, really, has Clarence somehow enchanted by it. No actor may have previously interpreted the poetry in this manner. Does his reading seem right? It doesn’t matter. He’s mesmerizing throughout it.
 

Joanna Leicester as the Queen Elizabeth is relentlessly steely

 


Matt de Rogatis’ thrilling performance is showcased in director Austin Pendleton’s Shakespearean mashup
 

Visually, temperamentally and vocally ,   de  Rogatis is perfection as that infamous villain. 
 

That renowned man of the theater Austin Pendleton’s concept to adapt and combine portions of William Shakespeare’s  Henry VI, Part 3  with  Richard III  is intriguing and textually successful. 
 

The mature stage veteran Mr. Broaddus  (Duke of York) is commanding as he takes center stage to effortlessly recite a long broadside with every bit of the verse flawlessly rendered. 
 

The marvelously cantankerous Carolyn Groves makes a great impression as Richard III’s mother, the Duchess of York. Stalwart Johanna Leister is spirited and has a soothing dignity as Queen Elizabeth. The alluring Rachel Marcus is a pragmatically feisty Lady Anne. As Queen Margaret, Debra Lass authoritatively becomes the play’s conscience with her engaging solidity. 
 

The back wall of the boxy stage is set with a black panel in the center and on the sides of it are flowing, weathered white curtains with Jackson Pollock-style dripped red paint, wonderfully connoting the bloody landscape. 
 

Steve Wolf’s lighting design has an inspired simplicity that serves the production well. 
 

The show’s costume consultant, fashion designer and  Project Runway  contestant Maya Luz’s creative vision is entrancing. Utilizing a palette of black, gray, white and red, Ms. Luz’s many contemporary garments artfully evoke the sense of the period with present day twists. 


 



What I really appreciated about this production was the evidence of hard work on text analysis to extract meaning. Austin Pendleton’s exacting direction puts the focus on the performer, and does not distract from the story with extraneous set and props.
 

Pendleton gave us a great Henry VI – a kind of a disheveled philosophy professor type who is trying to hold onto his seat of power, his “tenure”, only for his lifetime...The role of director and Henry VI merged on stage. I liked his silent tread through the work.

 

Matt de Rogatis, as Richard III, presented a boyish millennial with a brutal temper tantrum trigger. The iambic pentameter sat well in his mouth as he easily conveyed meaning in every scene. de  Rogatis has a strong presence on stage and has a few truly exceptional moments. 

The most impressive performance of the production came from Pete McElligott as Clarence. His vocal presence was in another league to his fellow cast mates and his performance energy was robust and vital. He gave a mesmerizing, honest and convincing performance.

 

Johanna Leister gave us a feisty, intelligent Queen Elizabeth. She is a consummate performer and I loved her final scene with Richard III where she portrayed a smorgasbord of intense emotions with heartfelt vigor, pain and passion.
 

Greg Pragel as Clifford/Buckingham brought a much needed surge of energy every time he came onto the stage. He gave an emotionally nuanced performance with a powerful physicality and has a good vocal timbre.
 

Debra Lass as Queen Margaret was a potent force and delivered a highly believable multi-faceted character.
 

Milton Elliot, as the second murderer, was delightful. He completely found the humor in the horror and his commitment to the scene was quite brilliant.
 

John L. Payne was a solid anchor in the piece bringing a grounded energy to his characters.
 

...many of the audience assembled leapt to their feet at curtain call and I overheard loads of people at interval and afterwards extolling the many virtues of the show...

 


... he's  (Pendleton) the focus of the early scenes as the weary and ineffectual Henry VI, a performance highlighted by a lovely recitation of the fading monarch's contemplation, in the midst of civil war over the crown, of how much happier his life might be "t o be no better than a homely swain ." 

Matt de Rogatis plays the role with the traditional physicality; a crouched walk, a withered arm and a large hump protruding from his back. But his character hints at being a streetwise urban wise guy; a punk who revels in his own cunning as he subdues anyone who underestimates his capabilities.

 

...there is some especially memorable scene work, such as when the persuasive Duke of Clarence (Pete McElligott) tries talking his way out of being murdered by two hired assassins; one gullible (Milton Elliott) and the other anxious to get the job done (John Constantine, excellent in his three roles). 
 

A stirring highlight is the matchup between Richard and Johanna Leister's commanding Queen Elizabeth, barely hiding her disgust as the monarch negotiates for her daughter's hand.

WARS OF THE ROSES can be enjoyed for its ambition and fine work by its ensemble.

 

What you are going to get in Richard III is Matt de Rogatis who is very effective in the part.

 

The scene that she (Johanna Leister/Queen Elizabeth) has with him (Matt de Rogatis/Richard III) is so effective...a really impressive scene.
 

A very effective production.
 

The language comes through and the acting is so wonderful.

As King Henry VI, co-director Pendleton (a Tony nominee and Off Broadway institution) offers an endearing take on this mild-mannered monarch more than willing to give up his crown. He has a sweet, slightly lost quality as, in the midst of the battle in which he will surrender everything, his face lights up as he imagines what his life might have been like as a shepherd. 

There’s compelling work from a moving Carolyn Groves as Richard’s mother, the Duchess of York, crippled by the loss of her husband and her two kinder sons; from Milton Elliott, in a brief humorous turn as a repentant hired assassin; and from Adam Dodway, in an even briefer appearance as the creepy, slightly-less-repentant hired assassin Tyrrell. 

As the ill-fated Clarence, Pete McElligott throws a contemporary spin on the delivery of his text that enlivens his scenes .  

.. he  (de Rogatis)  wields Richard’s manufactured charm like a dagger.   He also gives a fine performance in one of Shakespeare’s most disturbing and fascinating scenes, in which he woos Lady Anne   (in a subtle and winning performance by Rachel Marcus), whose husband and father were killed under his cunning manipulation. 

Shakespeare’s women were no shrinking violets in the Wars of the Roses, and it comes across quite strongly in the performances under Pendleton’s direction. Johanna Leister is a steely Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Edward IV, who is a force of nature in her own right. Similarly, Debra Lass is a formidable Queen Margaret, Henry VI’s strong-willed wife. As the Duchess of York, Richard’s tough-as-nails mother, Carolyn Groves is excellent. 

Steve Wolf’s lighting unobtrusively sets the mood. 


It’s a compelling and thoughtful concept, one explained passionately and thoughtfully by actor, director, and adapter, Austin Pendleton . 

the telling of this tragic tale is solid and intellectually stimulating 

Matt de Rogatis does a solid deconstruction of the murderous Richard III 

Johanna Leister as Queen Elizabeth, Michael Villastrigo as King Edward, Debra Lass as Queen Margaret, and Greg Pragel as Buckingham create serious and solid  ‘ actor’s studio  performances that facilitate the roles and the story, giving lovely moments of clarity and structure 

Pete McElligott as Clarence, the young brother of Richard has a gloriously compelling voice that rings strongly above the crowd. His portrayal of the domed and betrayed brother is interesting...His scene with the two murders, played well by John Constantine and Milton Elliott, is one of the highlights of Wars of the Roses.

...fine acting moments and thoughtful constructions.

Matt de Rogatis is a despicable Richard...an athletic feat of endless text...

Greg Pragel makes good use of the bureaucratic Buckingham. 

Pete McElligot delivers Clarence’s dream speech with an unexpected, musical clarity. 

Each of the characters plays with evil and, because of the widened scope of bringing the two plays together (both feature Richard), their choices are horrifying and riveting, despite the fact that the bravura role of the humpbacked king (passionately played by Matt de Rogatis, in a hoodie), allows room for smaller roles to pop. 

Pendleton himself portrays a reticent Henry, wearing a black t-shirt with a red cross, his hand to his mouth or hand to his face—even sitting on his hands at one point.  Such are his skills that he can appear relaxed on stage, while, at the same time destroying any illusion that he is playing a role at all. 

Rachel Marcus is a strong, intelligent actress, forced to make sense of Richard’s mystifying behavior

Greg Pragel delivers his lines with speed, pacing, and command—and he can be humorous, too—although his rebuff by de Rogatis, with a prayer book (into his face), is swift and malicious.  

 

Michael Villastrigo has found the manner of an assertive young king (Edward) and Adam Dodway (Tyrell and Ratcliffe), because of his naturalness on the stage, makes an impressive appearance.

Excellence is also seen in Jim Broaddus’s York, Milton Elliott’sWarwick and Murderer,  John L. Payne’s Backenbury andCatesby,  Tomas Russo’s Rutland and Dorset,  and  John Constantine’s Prince Edward and Murderer, twirling a chair. 

one explosive moment of pain, in Wars of the Roses, comes with Richard’s shocking kiss of Elizabeth, who has been asked to make her daughter a queen.  She is being hounded by a recognizable devil: part Weinstein, part Moonves, part Spacey.

Director Pendleton also served as Henry VI...the actor delivered his major soliloquy with quiet passion and poetry, highly suitable for a classical performance. 
 

Pete McElligott, as Richard’s betrayed brother Clarence, brings a casual authority to his good old frat boy interpretation of the role; his bargaining for his life with two assassins, John Constantine and Milton Elliott, was indeed a highlight of the program.
 

Johanna Leister brought life, wit and class to her role of Elizabeth, widow, queen and powerful foe of Richard.



Pendleton’s concept of weaving two Shakespearean characters in a braid of conniving and murderous deeds with brothers against brothers proves to be brilliant. The characters are tightly woven, and not a second is wasted on stage. 

Matt de Rogatis (Richard III).. . is young but highly talented, and he does a remarkable job. 

Anne, (Rachel Marcus)  wife to Edward, loaded with pain and anguish, delivers the most heartbreaking monologue over her husband’s dead body... 

I was fascinated by the magic of Shakespeare’s penmanship intros newly arranged version, and I even venture to say that if Shakespeare himself could see what Pendleton did with his original characters, he might have even asked himself: “How come I didn’t think of it?” 

War of the Roses  is a winner; and for those who just want to enjoy a good thriller, this play will definitely keep them on the edge of their seat. 


 

The cast, beginning with Matt de Rogatis’ occasionally youthful, occasionally infantile, always impulsive Richard, brought rich resources of interpretation and expression to their roles.     In his frustration with Queen Elizabeth close to the end, he fell into a whining tantrum which brought out the contemporary relevance of his role.    He was able to sustain all the variety occasioned by his character’s unhingedness without any unconvincing step. 

Austin Pendleton’s loose, relaxed delivery and his melancholy default expression conveyed Henry VI’s cluelessness and impotence in his loyalty to God and morality to perfection.   

I especially appreciated Pete McElligott’s Clarence, with his cello-like voice and his eloquent, if a bit prosy (not a criticism) shaping of his speeches.

Debra Lass, Johanna Leister, Rachel Marcus, Carolyn Groves all offered powerful women.  

Johanna Leister’s Queen Elizabeth showed vast perception, color, and dynamics, as she built up to her final scene with the perverted usurper.  

Drop whatever plans you may have made and head to Bank Street for this unique and important production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III.