Theater Review - By the numbers: Shakespeare Tavern's Henry VI, Parts 1-3

The Shakespeare Tavern has ambition and resources to attempt projects few theater companies would dare. In November of 2003, the company staged all four plays in Shakespeare's Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V). Five years later, the Tavern tackles Shakespeare's earlier, seldom produced three-play Henry VI cycle, which artistic director Jeffrey Watkins likes to call "the Pulp Fiction of the Shakespeare canon." Watkins talks about the complexity of staging the huge three-play repertory, which runs through Nov. 30.

• 31 actors and 152 speaking roles: "We actually started the first week of August and had a rough staging of the whole thing by the end of that month. The master schedule for the whole company was insanely complicated but the actors knew what they had to accomplish before coming to rehearsal so that we could make the most out of what limited time we had. A lot of the younger talent really helped drive the process by being seriously prepared."

• 8,759 lines: "We trimmed a little here and there. The line count translates into 150, 165 and 160 respective minutes of playing time for the three parts. I like my Shakespeare plays to run two hours 25 minutes. I think asking an audience to go more than two hours 35 minutes is risky."

• 17 battles: "The requisite violence is one of the main reasons that modern companies don't do this stuff. Drew Reeves who also plays Richard did the fight direction and I wouldn't be surprised if he rehearsed that one element as many hours as I did for all the text. He had three assistants and the results are astounding."

• 7 severed heads: "The secret is after the mold is made, the artisan needs to improvise with the mouth and eyes for a final effect that bespeaks a level of relaxation one imagines the headless would posses. Then there's the gore to be attached at the neck. Then the actor has to create the illusion that it weighs eight pounds. Oh yeah, the hair has to be glued on well so it can be easily carried."

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