LITTLE ROCK Should you go searching through Shakespeare’s plays, you are unlikely to find Henry V as one of his best-known or greatest hits. Shakespeare is better remembered for his comedies and tragedies, rather than his historical plays.
Don’t tell that to Robert Hupp, the producing artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and also the director of the Rep’s production of Henry V.
“It’s one of the most engaging, relevant, exciting plays that Shakespeare ever wrote,” Hupp says. “I saw the play in England in the mid-1980s, with Kenneth Branagh playing Henry V. I had just come out of two years of Shakespeare school when I did that.
“I was in love with the play ever since then, because it captures and addresses so many ideas that are still relevant to us today: the nature of warfare, the nature of honor, the complexity of decisions that we make as leaders and as a country, the fact that there are no easy answers for what we are trying to achieve. There are so many rich characters in this play; it’s not just about King Henry, but about the people that are the common soldiers.”
Hupp is bringing back a pair of actors who were together two years ago in the Rep’s production of Hamlet, along with the earlier production of the Alfred Hitchcockian The 39 Steps: Avery Clark and Nikki Coble.
Clark is not apprehensive about becoming known as Arkansas’ premier young Shakespearean actor.
“I don’t consider this one as a history play,” Clark says. “Not even Henry IV [Parts] 1 and 2, because the story is just so much more exciting than the history plays that get so bogged down in semantics. This is more of a story. As a young actor, there are a handful of roles you want to tackle before you get out of those years, such as Romeo and Henry, who is, after all, the boy king.
“He has these amazing, rousing speeches that are really a lot of fun to get behind.”
Sheila Glasscock, who is cast as Mistress Quickly and Alice, agrees with Clark.
“It’s satisfying; it stands alone,” says Glasscock, who teaches theater at Pulaski Technical College.
Henry V became England’s king in 1413, reigning for nine years before he died of dysentery at age 35. He became king when his father died and left him a country with many problems, so he decided to invade England’s perennial foe, France, to rally his subjects around him. He found himself outnumbered in the historic Battle of Agincourt, but he outmaneuvered his foe and won the battle, becoming a legend in the process.
One of Shakespeare’s most recognized quotes is heard in Act IV: “From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
Moving on to claim the spoils of the war he started, he woos a French princess who knows little English, while he knows a similar amount of French.
“She realizes that she’s a part of the deal, if there’s going to be a takeover by the English,” says Coble, who plays Princess Katherine. “The scenes she’s in are the only nonmartial scenes in the play, so they’re definitely lighter, more romantic than comedic.”
Joe Menino, who was in Othello, Hupp’s first Shakespearean production at the Rep, portrays the King of France and Bishop Ely. He and Hupp attended acting school together.
“I remember ‘Once more unto the breach’ was the first speech we had to memorize,” Menino says with a laugh.
Another returning thespian, DC Wright, is back for the sixth time as the fight choreographer, having handled the duty in Hamlet, Les Miserables, Moonlight and Magnolias, Of Mice and Men and Romeo and Juliet. Earlier this year, he directed 35 fights for a production of the three Henry VI plays.
“Henry V really features combat,” Wright notes. “We get to utilize the broadsword,” which was pretty expensive back then when it was considered state-of-the-art.
The cast of 19 also includes Jason Collins as Fluellen, Jason Guy as the chorus and Montjoy and Ed Lowery as Bardolph and Gloucester.
And Mike Nichols, the Rep’s resident set designer and technical director, is marking his 30th year with the Rep by designing an open, expansive multilayered stage that can accommodate the play’s epic battle scenes.
The Rep has added a couple of new events: Reel Classics, at 6 p.m. Monday, will be at the Laman Library, 2801 Orange St., North Little Rock, and will feature the theater’s creative team discussing the production, followed by a screening of the film version of the play. Admission is free and open to the public. A student actor workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Rep. High school and college students who are ages 15-22 will be able to learn onstage combat, blocking and dissecting the language of Henry V for a modern audience. Clark and Coble will lead the workshop, which is free. Space is limited and reservations are required. For information, see therep.org
Hupp will moderate a panel discussion from noon to 1 p.m. today at the Clinton School of Public Service’s Sturgis Hall where cast members will discuss the play and the process of bringing the characters to life on the stage. To reserve seats, send an e-mail to publicprograms @clintonschool.uasys.edu or call (501) 683-5239.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 23,
Where: Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock
Tickets: $25-$45; $10 off “A” section and $5 off “B” section seating through today
Sign-interpreted performance for the hearing impaired: Sept. 12 only
Weekend, Pages 32 on 09/06/2012
Print Headline: There’s a ‘band of brothers’ of sorts putting on Henry V