Noted Seattle-based director Rosa Joshi makes her D.C. directorial debut with Folger Theatre’s opening production of its 2019-20 season, which will find Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV on stage Sept. 3 through Oct. 13.
Joshi has a long history of directing the Bard, working at the Seattle Shakespeare Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and her own upstart crow collective, which presents classical plays with all-female casts. For the latter, she has helmed Richard III, Bring Down the House, Titus Andronicus and ?King John, while she’s conquered titles such as Henry V, Hamlet and As You Like It as well.
She was thrilled to be asked to direct this show by Folger Artistic Director Janet Alexander Griffin.
“I have a daughter who goes to school at George Washington University and I had done Henry V at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Someone from the Folger had seen the show and had a query from Janet saying she would love to get to know me,” Joshi says.
“I was here to see my daughter, so I met with Janet about potential projects and this show aligned well. I have seen shows at the Folger and feel my aesthetic is a great fit.”
Plus, just working at such an impressive theater as the Folger was something she could never resist.
“Most of my work has been in Seattle, but now that my kids are older, I’m looking to do more work nationally,” she says. “I’m completely enchanted by this show and thrilled to be here.”
“I see Falstaff being the guy at the party who continues dancing when the DJ is packing up because he doesn’t want to face his own mortality and just wants to party to keep going.” – Rosa Joshi
Her love for directing came while an intern at the Julliard School as a stage manager.
“I was watching master directors work with students and that’s where I really fell in love with classical work,” she says. “But I’ve always had a passion for classics. I fell in love with Shakespeare in middle school, but I was intimidated as an undergraduate. I had to learn technique. It can be daunting as a young artist, especially a young person of color, but you realize that if you just learn technique you can do this work.”
She certainly proved that’s the case. Throughout her career, Joshi has served as interim artistic director of Northwest Asian American Theatre, was the artistic director of the Second Company at New City Theater, and is currently on the faculty of Seattle University where she teaches directing and theatre history.
Considered a Shakespeare classic, 1 Henry IV is a historical account of young Prince Hal, whose rebellious ways, learned while hanging with criminals and commoners much to the dismay of the King, give rise to a path to the throne which leads him to the battlefield, where questions of honor and reputation emerge.
The director likes to refer to history plays like this as “political warfare” plays, a term she borrowed from her colleague and co-founder of crow collective, Kate Wisniewski.
“For one thing, they are not about our direct history as an American society, so I’m always thinking when I do classics, ‘what do these plays have to say to us as contemporary audiences,’” she says. “When I think of them as political war plays, and I think about politics, leadership and war, the dynamics become very contemporary in the way they are intertwined. Leaders are making decisions based on personal ambitions and desires, betrayals and loyalties, and it affects the masses and ordinary people. That is very contemporary.”
The cast includes four-time Helen Hayes Award-winning actor Edward Gero as Sir John Falstaff and features Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Blunt and Mortimer; Naomi Jacobson as the Percy family leader Worcester; Kate Eastwood Norris as Mistress Quickly; and Avery Whitted, making his D.C. theater debut as Prince Hal.
“Ed is like D.C. theater royalty and he’s such a masterful actor and incredible human being. Upon meeting him, I saw he had the life experience and he’s really interested in finding the darkness of the character, which I think is something we really connected over,” Joshi says. “I see Falstaff being the guy at the party who continues dancing when the DJ is packing up because he doesn’t want to face his own mortality and just wants to party to keep going. While he is full of life, he clings to life.”
Joshi calls the relationship between Hal and Falstaff one of the best “bromances” in all of Shakespeare.
“There isn’t a relationship like this in any of the other plays—there’s nothing as fully realized as the contrast between court and the world of [the tavern] Eastcheap in terms of showing the life or ordinary people in the other plays I have encountered,” she says. “I was drawn to the story of the coming of age of a young leader torn between two fathers—Henry IV and this larger than life, exuberant father figure in Falstaff.”
In the spirit of the crow collective, when Joshi directs shows that aren’t all female, she still looks for opportunities for women in her plays, which is why she cast Jacobson as Worcester.
“I feel very fortunate to have a cast that is so skilled and willing to collaborate and work with an attitude of seriousness and enjoyment of the work,” Joshi says. “Naomi is a powerhouse and you don’t want to mess with her on stage, and I think it’s incredible to see a woman take on that kind of power politically in the world.”
While Joshi is enjoying all of the show, working on Eastcheap has been one of her favorite parts thanks to the comic elements and full embrace on life that the setting provides.
“There is great comic sensibility. My job is a little bit to stay out of the way and edit because these actors are so inventive, but we do need to keep the story moving forward,” she says.