The newly re-named company announces casting for its Falstaff-centric comedy
We all know this story…the one about Happy Hal, the Prince Who Stayed out Late. The heir to the English throne who drank, wenched, gambled and cavorted with cowards, petty thieves and whoremongers while the great monarch Henry IV fretted – and then who, miraculously, recovered his powers when England needed him most, and thereafter set fire to history.
We take the lesson Shakespeare set out for us in Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II, and Henry V – that Prince Hal, through his seemingly feckless gambols with Sir John Falstaff and the riff-raff he hung with, learned powerful things about human nature that he would not otherwise know, and he truly became a King when he turned his back on Falstaff, rising above that nature while knowing it intimately in others.
But what if it wasn’t true? What if the true point of view was not that of mighty kings or of history itself, but of the varlets – not bad people, but ordinary people like ourselves, who enjoyed a drink or a game of cards or a cuddle, who were not eager to risk life or treasure in behalf of the usurper King Henry IV as he battled against his many enemies.
What if, properly seen, the rise of Henry V was not a triumph but a tragedy, in which good, simple people, not Kings or Princes, saw their friend Hal seduced and manipulated by his wily father, taken from them and transformed from something human into part of the grinding machine that was the British monarchy?
In short, what if instead of the Henry IV and V plays we had The Mistorical Hystery of Henry (I)V, Tom Mallan’s distinctive take on Shakespeare’s account of the rise of the Bolingbroke monarchs. Mistorical Hystery will be the second show in the 2011-2012 season schedule for WSC Avant Bard, formerly the Washington Shakespeare Company.
“The two parts of Henry IV are fascinatingly uneven,” says Mallon, a former company member who now teaches Shakespeare adaptation to young people and has directed Mozart adaptations for In Series. “Part 1 is ‘well made,’ with clear themes and a clear arc driving toward its conclusion. Part 2 feels more like an assortment of sketches, with rich and quirky characters…popping out of the woodwork almost ‘too late’ in the series for us to care about them. Yet they’re vivid and distracting, and beg the question of whether the unimportant people of the world aren’t just as valuable and far more interesting than the high and mighty.”
Mallon, who is directing his own adaptation, is resolved to tell their stories. “[O]ur adaptation gives voice to these characters and their version,” he assures. “They not only reveal their own underworld story (prostitution, alcoholism, VD, heists, arrests) to the audience. We also learn of the political upheaval in the outside world (power grabs, corruption, succession battles, civil wars) without ever leaving the Boar’s Head Tavern, through the satiric musical portrayal of it by the tavern’s resident company of prostitute/ actresses.
“Using language from the two original plays (as well as Henry V and the prequel Richard II),” Mallan explains, they “perform their Fake News vignettes as part of an evening’s cycle of entertainment/prostitution/robbery at their underground music hall. They twist, question and mock the dominant society’s emphasis on honor, nobility, masculinity and heroism.”
WSC Avant Bard mainstay Jay Hardee, who will be playing Prince Hal, calls Mistorical Hystery’s setting “a streampunk alternate Edwardian era brothel/tavern/music hall.” Hardee explains there will be some cross-gender casting for the plays-within-plays, in which the local fancy ladies present the news in skit form. “Hotspur will be played by Sara Barker,” Hardee explains, “but she will be actually be playing Mistress Silence playing Hotspur. Kari Ginsburg plays Jane Nightwork…who plays Henry IV in the music hall.” WSC Avant Bard Christopher Henley will play the real Henry IV, as well as Falstaff – “in a fat suit,” Hardee assures. The cast also features James Finley as Points, Cam Magee as Mistress Quickly, and Frank Britton as Shallow.
Mallan assures us that this inside-out view of the early days of the Bolingbrokes, though a challenge to conventional thinking, is not an academic exercise. “[W]hile it takes inspiration from Stoppard, Genet, and John Gay,” Mallan asserts, “the production’s play-within-a-play structure will fill the evening with music, comedy and action to make the play feel less like a cerebral exercise in re-imagining a classic and more like entertainment to the 2011 audience.”
WSC Avant Bard’s production of The Mistorical Hystery of Henry (I)V will run from November 2 to December 14 at the Artistphere.