It was minus 20 degrees here in Chicago last night, but I was cozy and content with a blanket on my couch watching Henry VI, Part 2 on PBS. What a superb series this is: the war of the roses by Shakespeare in 4 plays, Richard II, Henry VI Part 1, Part 2, and Richard III, which I think will be shown next week with Benedict Cumberbach in the title role. He played Richard in Henry VI, Part 2 last night and if his playing of Gloucester, as he is known until he becomes king in Richard III contains the brilliance of which we saw flashes last night, it's going to be thrilling. The adaptor and director have done a wonderful job of cutting and pasting the 4 plays so that the history is very clear. They've made it a saga of 2 families battling each other savagely for power and it is as relevant today as it was when written - maybe even more so. I love seeing the characters as young people growing into older people (those who survive!), especially Sophie Okenodo (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) as the viciously ambitious Queen Margaret. It's going to be really fascinating to see her play the queen as a ranting, mad old lady in Richard III because we've seen the madness gradually descending upon and then consuming her throughout the Henry plays. What I found fascinating in her performance and the direction was her sadistic, pitiless torture and murder of the Duke of York during the revolt against her husband, and then her horror at the execution of her teenaged son in front of her when she is defeated 10 years later by York's surviving sons. The arrogance of a woman who mercilessly slaughters her enemies with glee contrasted with a mother whose son is then mercilessly slaughtered in front of her and who expects pity was really chillingly portrayed. What I have loved about this series is how easy the history is to follow. The history plays can be very confusing, especially as peoples' titles and ranks shift and alter with lightning speed, and within minutes they have changed sides in the endless battles for the crown but these productions have made the history and the people relatively easy to follow, and their motivations for the violence are very succinctly spelled out. A particularly confusing moment in Part 2 is when the Duke of Clarence goes to Warwick's side, then deserts Warwick and returns to his brother's (King Edward IV) side within the space of a few speeches. When I taught Shakespeare, I used to have to draw charts and family trees and illustrate who was who and why over and over again. For instance, Richard III starts out as the Duke of York's third son, then he becomes Duke of Gloucester when his brother becomes king, and then he becomes Richard III after he has knocked off his brothers and nephews and grabbed the crown. This used to take hours to clarify for my rather dim and very confused students but in the hands of the people putting together The Hollow Crown, and due to Cumberbach's very smart performance, it's pretty easy to grasp and follow. Anyway, it was a blissful way to pass a frigid evening and I wish we had more shows of this quality to pass more frigid evenings.