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'Henry V': Island Stage Left puts Shakespeare’s play in a contemporary setting
The tone of Island Stage Left’s summer production will differ this year. Far from the fun and frolic-filled “As You Like It,” which toured in 2009, this summer the company will perform Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
Compared to the happy mess of “As You Like It,” “Henry V” is a more sober piece of theater. It falls into the category of the Shakespearean “history plays,” a title applied to the 11 pieces which depict the lives of English kings. However, do not be daunted, director Helen Machin-Smith says.
True, the work is not as light as the comedies, nor as popularly known as plays like “Romeo and Juliet” or “King Lear.” However, “Henry V” is no less accessible or enjoyable, she says. In fact, it is Machin-Smith’s favorite Shakespeare.
“It’s just as accessible as the comedies, and I’ve had lots of feedback from people saying they are glad we are doing it.”
“Henry V” is the final play in a tetralogy, preceded by the earlier “Richard II,” “Henry IV, part 1” and “Henry IV, part 2.” Henry matures throughout the series, starting as the young, carefree "Prince Hal” of the first plays to the orator and leader in Henry V.
“It’s the story of a young man, known for his licentious ways, becoming king and accepting and understanding the responsibilities of leadership,” Machin-Smith says. “There are themes of war, loyalty, love, courage and cowardice.”
Machin-Smith finds the themes of the play interesting and, although the plot circulates around war, she thinks it is more sophisticated than mere military propaganda.
“I don’t believe Shakespeare thought it was a pro-war play. It’s about showing all sides of war — the weight of responsibility, guilt and leadership.” She points out that many of these issues are pertinent in today’s political atmosphere, lending a contemporary edge to the play’s content.
The presentation of the play has been given a contemporary edge as well, but not entirely, Machin-Smith says. “It’s not set in any particular time period,” she says of the staging and costume choices. “It’s got bits of World War II, Napoleonic era, a medieval tavern keeper, and bits of Iraq.”
The director also had to tackle the problem of an imbalance of gender in the script. “The play is a challenge because it’s so male. There are only three women, and they all have one little scene. We have 10 men in it and all of them play multiple parts.” The director is pleased though, with this year’s offering of summer Shakespeare.
The show will have toured Orcas, Shaw, Lopez and Waldron islands before it plays on San Juan. From July 16-25, the cast will perform on the Wold Road outdoor theater, and from July 29 to Aug. 22 on the Roche Harbor outdoor stage. All performances start at 8:15 p.m.
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. It is recommended you dress warmly.
— Dates: July 16-25 (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays), at 1062 Wold Road. July 29 to Aug. 22 (Thursdays through Sundays), Roche Harbor Outdoor Stage. All performances at 8:15 p.m.