Kings of War

I sat on the G train on Friday evening — headed to Brooklyn Academy of Music — wondering if I had made a big mistake. Kings of War, performed in Dutch (with surtitles) by Toneelgroep Amsterdam and directed by Ivo van Hove had seemed like a no-brainer. (His Antigone at BAM last fall was fantastic.) But I was exhausted, and this play was nearly four and one-half hours long. What if it is boring? What if I fall asleep? I was also unsure about the extensive use of video in the piece. I have seen performances that overly relied on the tech aspect, while the actual piece was under-developed. Plus, I was up to my eyeballs with election fatigue, and here I was, voluntarily submitting myself to more politics — albeit the Shakespearean variety. Too late now, I thought, as I took my seat. Next thing I knew it was intermission. All too soon it was over. This brilliant contemporary melding of three of Shakespeare’s king plays (Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III) could not have been more timely. The focus on the vastly different rulers and their leadership styles often echoed our current political landscape with eerie prescience. The brilliant use of technology enhanced the performance. The acting was superb; the live musicians perfectly set the mood; the staging and set designs were exciting. I was completely engrossed in the action. The few well-placed modern political references resonated. Last spring, I attended all four of the king plays presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at BAM. That experience enhanced my enjoyment of this riveting production, which puts our current political hijinx in a wider context: same power struggles, different centuries — the final act of this latest drama soon to be written.

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