Stephan Wolfert, founder of De-Cruit, has spent the last seven years healing the trauma of veterans through Shakespeare. As he developed this program, he also created a stunning one-man show, Cry Havoc(reviewed in SB37.3), which tells of his experience as a veteran, his introduction to Shakespeare, and how the two led him to create De-Cruit. By interspersing Shakespeare's text with his own lived story, Wolfert crafted an emotionally powerful piece that brings new understanding to Shakespeare's soldiers.
Wolfert returned to playwriting recently, teaming up with actress Dawn Stern to adapt Shakespeare's Henry VIand Richard IIIinto a play focused on Margaret of Anjou, who was, as Wolfert pointed out in his director's notes, a military veteran. No other Margaret adaptation I'm aware of has specifically set out to explore Margaret's status as a veteran and, having seen Cry Havoc, I hoped that She-Wolfwould similarly use personal narrative to illuminate Shakespeare's characters. At this point in the play's development (a version of the script was workshopped prior to the Amphibian Stage production with a larger cast; Stern and Wolfert have since begun performing a two-actor version), however, the script does not put a personal spin on the story, favoring instead a mostly conservative adaptation. Following linearly the plot of Shakespeare's four plays, She-Wolfopened with Margaret's first appearance meeting Suffolk in 1 Henry VIand ended with Margaret's final appearance in Richard IIIwhere she slips her weary head from her yoke and "leave[s] the burden of it all on thee" (4.4.113). [End Page 295]
She-Wolfwas performed with a cast of four; Dawn Stern played Margaret and three male actors portrayed all other roles. At times, the piece fell into the same traps other Margaret adaptations have found: take a story with too many characters, perform it with too few actors, and Margaret can get lost within her own play. This adaptation successfully avoided the risk of Richard III taking over the latter part of the play by boldly removing him and passing some of his lines and actions to Edward IV. But even so, Wolfert felt too centered at times, as he portrayed all three of Margaret's primary adversaries: Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, Richard Duke of York, and Edward IV. Reducing a story that occurs over four plays to two hours or so is always the primary challenge faced by Margaret adaptations. Often characters important to the emotional stakes necessarily get very little stage time or don't appear at all. For instance, in She-Wolf, Margaret captured York, mocked him about his sons, and revealed the murder of Rutland, before we'd even met Edward, George, Richard, or Rutland.
The tone was frequently comic. Wolfert played Walter Whitmore with a pirate voice and King Louis IX with a clownish French accent. James Edward Becton slimed about as Suffolk and as Dame Eleanor gave more of a drag performance than a three-dimensional woman. When this tonal element succeeded, it gave the impression of a capable woman surrounded by silly men who, inexplicably, are all given more power than she is. When it didn't work, interactions became superficial; without further development of the relationships between Margaret and the men in her life, it was difficult to feel the depth of her loss.
Suffolk and Margaret's relationship was not one of passion, but of mutual opportunity. Suffolk creepily pursued Margaret when they met and she pushed away his advances. Their first kiss was clearly...