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DruidShakespeare: The History Plays
Hynes is no stranger to the Lincoln Center Festival. This project becomes her fourth—and most ambitious—theater piece to date. And, in collaboration with the Irish author Mark O'Rowe, who has conflated the four history plays into a new-fangled one, she is working on a huge canvas.
If the scope and breadth of this project is impressive, so is its risk-taking. With its re-gendering many characters you will see female performers stepping in as Bolingbroke/ Henry IV (the excellent Derbhle Crotty) and Hal/ Henry V (the feisty Aisling O'Sullivan); and male performers slipping into the skins of Mistress Quickly (the outlandishly hoop-skirted John Olahan) and Bardolph (the expressive Clare Barrett)—to mention a few gender-benders. and it's all done with no apologies.
Staging this historical behemoth (scholars often nickname it The Henriad) is a rare event, even in the Big Apple. So if you have never witnessed it in live performance, now is your ideal opportunity to bite in and get a real taste of these histories that retell the core national narrative of the English monarchy.
This epic theater event is neatly divided in two: Druid Shakespeare: Part 1 includes Richard II and Henry IV, Part I; and Part 2, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V. You can see the event on two separate days or as a full-length marathon (The marathon hasthree intermissions). But no matter what you decide on, it's a huge swath of history, all served up in seven hours (the marathon has three intermissions).
I decided to go to the marathon—and was glad I did. Yes, it is a stretch to sit through, especially that last leg where one witnesses Henry V's phenomenal morphing from wastrel to ideal king, straight through to his bone-weary triumph at Agincourt. But there's never , ever a time it sags —from the first moment Richard II (with white mime makeup on his face) skips onto the stage to its closing scene with Falstaff's death, the event is enthralling with a capital "E. Indeed Hynes is the epitome of a director who knows how to keep things moving along. So watching these history plays, back-to-back, felt like the rough equivalent of discovering a four-leaf clover growing out of New York cement.
There's no doubt Hynes takes poetic license, now and then, especially with the staging of Falstaff (Rory Nolan). She obviously wants to keep him in the picture here, and not have him fade out (the newly-crowned Henry V had coldly rejected him at the closing of Henry IV: Part 11!) Hynes, in fact, gives Falstaff pride of place by having his off-stage death in Henry V occur in the very final scene. Indeed it's a poignant—and fitting--tribute to one of Shakespeare's greatest dramatic creations.
Over 100 characters are presented in this historical pageant, all brought gloriously alive by 13 performers from the Druid Theatre Company. You see the death of kings, the grooming of new monarchs, the rise and fall of nobles, the fickleness of those who follow kings, and much, much more.
This was the first time I had heard Shakespeare's verse uniformly spoken with an Irish brogue. This was not only memorable, but gave new proof that the Bard belongs to everybody.
Indeed the Irish-born Hynes (1998 Tony Award for Beauty Queen of Leenane) has scored another homerun in New York.