MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Tug of War: Civil Strife

Henry Vi Parts 2 & 3.strife11

Richard III.

by William Shakespeare.

Adapted and Directed by Barbara Gaines.

Music Direction by Matt Deitchman.

At Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier.

Centerpiece of yearlong Shakespeare 400 Chicago celebration.

Thrilling epic theatre holds us for all six hours.

On May 22, 2016, I spent six hours being memorized by the overwhelming creativity of Barbara Gaines’  in Tug of War: Foreign Fire. The blend of Shakespearean verse, vivid sound effects and rock music with adapter/director Barbara Gaines’ blend of the histories made for an engrossing day of theatre! A look around the theatre showed that only one or two patrons left before the finish. That was remarkable!

Well, all of the above also happened on September 25, 2016 from 1 pm to 7  pm at Navy Pier with Gaines’ second installment of her ode to The Bard’s histories:  Tug of War: Civil Strife.  I enjoyed this show more than the first one. Maybe because of the music seemed  to be more a tad softer, more melancholy  or maybe because my three favorite classical actors had major roles : Larry Yando, Kevin Gudahl and Timothy Edward Kane? Whatever the reason, Tug of War: Civil Strife was a thrilling event that I’m  glad I was able to cover this. Kudos to Chicago Shakespeare for having the chutzpah to mount two historical marathon dramas in the same season!


Let me quote the press notes to accurately generally explain the stories of   Tug of War: Civil Strife:

“The adventure began in the spring with Foreign Fire—focusing on England’s Hundred Years’ War with France in Edward III, Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1″

‘Civil Strife opens in a period of lawlessness and turbulence in England as the country’s leading families—the Houses of York and Lancaster, embroiled in the Wars of the Roses—scheme for the English throne. The Duke of York manipulates the beleaguered King Henry VI’s weakness. The country spirals further into chaos when the King is murdered, and his brother Richard—one of Shakespeare’s most diabolical villains—seeks the crown. Embittered by his own physical deformities, the power-hungry Richard will stop at nothing to gain control of England, seducing and murdering his way to the throne. A new age dawns for England as this chronicle comes to a dramatic close.”

“Civil Strife is the stunning conclusion of the ultimate game of thrones, Tug of War—Artistic Director Barbara Gaines’ singular distillation of six Shakespeare masterworks into two action-packed dramas. Power plays, ego, lust, humor and, yes, even love: no writer surpassed Shakespeare in portraying the forces that drive leaders to war—or the wisdom and valor of the common soldier. Twenty-two actors including a four-member band, form the company that will satisfy your craving for a multi-episode immersion into some of the most brilliant stories of the cyclical human condition.”
Among the outstanding performances, Steven Sutcliff’es King Henry VI  with his wife, Queen Margaret play by Karen Aldridge.  Larry Yando is eerie as the evil Richard Plantagenert, Duke of York with Michael Aaron Lindner as King Edward IV. Kevin Gudahl as the Earl of Warwick doing his best Donald Trump imitation!  David Darlow, Derrick Trumbly, Elizabeth Ledo, Michael Milligan, John Tufts, Heidi Kettenring and Daniel Kyri were also most effective with each  having special moments. The cast of 18  performers played 100 roles plus several had solo songs.  It sure is a tribute to witness such stage craft and dedication from the cast. in one scene, a player is featured then he/she becomes a soldier or a messenger in another.  A special mention for costume designer Susan E. Mickey and Wig & Make-up designer Melissa Veal for their yeomen work on this epic.
As terrific as this cast was, I was extremely impressed by Larry Yandos’s Duke of York; Kevin Gudal’s Earl of Warwick and Timothy Edward Kane’s scary Richard III.  When the key historical characters are presented so wonderfully like they need to be, an epic comes together nicely.
During Shakespearean’s 400 Anniversary, what could be better that spending a day or a full evening being enthralled with the action-packed War of The Roses in Tug of War: Civil Strife? This show requires endurance, maybe an extra cup of coffee and the mental commitment to experience and appreciate a marvelous spectacularly crafted version of  Shakespeare’s histories.  This epic is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are only 8 more performances, so hurry.
Highly Recommended.
Tom Williams.
Date Reviewed: September 25, 2016.
For more info checkout the Tug of War: Civil Strife page at
At Chicago Shakespeare theatre, Navy Pier, Chicago, Il, call 312-595-5600,, tickets $100., Wednesday, September 28 at 11 Am, Friday, September 30 at 5 pm, Saturday, October 1 at 4 pm, Sunday, October 2 at 1 pm, Wednesday, October 5 at 5pm, Friday, October 7 at 5pm, Saturday, October 8 at 4pm, Sunday, October 9 at 1 pm, tinning yime is 6 hours with three intermissions, through October 9, 2016.