Highly Recommended **** “Tug of War: Foreign Fire” is such a huge production it’s hard to know where to start when writing a review. Watching “Foreign Fire” was like binge watching three or four episodes of a TV drama like “Outlander” or “Game of Thrones”. It was exciting, addictive, totally exhausting and I loved it! Brilliantly staged and superbly acted, I give “Foreign Fire” 4 Spotlights.
William Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays about kings and the wars they wage. Six, traditionally called the history plays, were about the Plantagenet kings – Edward III, Henry V, Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3, and Richard III. The Henry plays are produced fairly frequently; “Edward III” almost never. Barbara Gaines, guru of all things Shakespeare in Chicago, decided that she would fuse the six history plays into two parts, “Foreign Fire” (wars in Scotland and France) and “Civil Strife” (the War of the Roses at home). “Civil Strife” will be presented in September.
“Foreign Fire” reminded me a lot of the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max or Waterworld. Staged against an oversized scaffolding, which explodes with light during battles, “Foreign Fire” is unrelentingly dark. An oversized tire swing, raised and lowered when needed, serves as a throne for all the kings, French as well as English. I thought it represented the basic instability of king’s reign and the shifting loyalties of his subjects.
Everyone wore dark, distressed (ragged) costumes – black shirts/tunics/padded jackets over gray leather pants and combat boots. The English had something dirty red – a hat, scarf, tunic, or something, while the French wore dirty turquoise blue over their black. Each king wore a long cloak with his face screen-printed on the back and his name repeating on a black border near the hem. Each king wore a matching paper crown – like the ones in Christmas poppers – on his head while each prince wore a paper head band.
In “Foreign Fire”, the kings decide on who to fight and when; the nobles/officers give orders; but the common soldiers who fight the battles can become cannon fodder. War is not portrayed as glamorous and heroic, but as ugly and brutal. Whenever a character died – and there were many – that actor would smear gray stuff on his/her forehead. When an English king died, he traded his dirty red cloak and crown for a grayish-white cloak and crown. Whenever someone would step forward to explain events or set a scene, he/she would don a white scarf for the nonce.
It would be difficult to single out just one actor because “Foreign Fire” is very much an ensemble piece, but I must mention the kings and princes. Edward III is played with panache by Freddie Stevenson, his son Edward, Prince of Wales by Dominique Worsley. Kevin Gudahl plays French King John II, his son Prince Philip is played by Daniel Kyri. King Henry V is played by John Tufts while Larry Yando is French King Charles VI and Steven Sutcliffe is the Dauphin. King Henry VI is played by Steven Sutcliffe. French King Charles VII (Freddie Stevenson) and Prince Philip (Alex Weisman) are aided by Joan la Pucelle (Heidi Kettenring) who is also known as Joan of Arc.
The rest of the stellar ensemble includes Karen Aldridge, David Darlow, Neil Friedman, Michael Aaron Lindner, James Newcomb and Barbara Robertson.
Shakespeare’s texts are frequently musical, but in “Foreign Fire”, the music is provided by an excellent rock band, Matt Deitchman, Jed Feder, Shanna Jones and Tahirah Whittington. The action is enhanced by classical, rock, pop, blues and/or jazz music and vocals. I heard a few of the older members of the audience complain about the rock music, but most liked it.
“Tug of War: Foreign Fire” runs through June 12th in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Courtyard Theatre on Navy Pier, Chicago.
“Tug of War: Civil Strife” will be staged in the fall.
Running time for “Foreign Fire” is 6 hours with 2 15-minute intermissions and a 45-minute meal break.
Performances are :
Saturdays at 4:00 pm
Sundays at 1:00 pm.
Tickets are discounted 15% when “Foreign Fire” and “Civil Strife” are booked together; full price is $100 for single show.
Parking is available at a 40% discount in the Navy Pier Garages with validation from CST. FYI (312) 595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click on “Tug of War: Foreign Fire”.