PlayMakers Repertory Company has found the contemporary edge within Shakespeare’s histories “Henry IV” and “Henry V.”
Each about 400 years old, the plays — which the company will bring to the stage in rotating repertory beginning next week — have timeless themes.
At Wednesday night’s Vision Series, hosted by the cast and crew of “The Making of a King” repertory, co-directors Joseph Haj and Mike Donahue stressed the similarities between young Hal — a prince in Henry IV who later becomes Henry V — and today’s college students.
“It’s about maturation and responsibility,” Haj said. “He’s on a long journey to becoming his father’s son, to becoming the great leader, Henry V.”
Donahue said the relationship between young and old generations in the play also resonates.
“It’s about young people having to clean up their parents’ messes,” he said.
The directors said the timing of the production — which centers on two controversial wars — fits well with the current mood of the country.
“We didn’t need to do much to put that (theme) in the room,” Haj said. “Any careful watcher would think of that. There are war resonances all over these plays.”
The directors said that rather than depicting war as good or bad, they tried to explore why a country would go to war and what the effects would be.
Deborah Gerhardt, a law professor at UNC, was particularly moved by the plays’ contemporary resonance.
For the first time, she said she is taking one of her classes to see a PlayMakers production because of how relevant the play’s themes are to her students’ lives.
“The students are choosing what friends they want to spend the rest of their lives with,” Gerhardt said. “They’re all becoming ‘kings’ of their own realms.”
Costume designer Jen Caprio said she tried to preserve the contemporary resonance of the production when designing.
“We wanted to tell the story in a way the audience could relate to,” she said.
From the beginning of the design process, Caprio focused on creating costumes that would not be quickly labeled as reflecting a specific time period.
“(The audience) sometimes shuts off when they see someone wearing pumpkin pants, or in very period wear,” she said.
“We did not focus on a specific timeline.”
Haj and Donahue said that the two plays will focus on Hal’s journey from a “drunkard” who wants nothing to do with the kingship to an iconic leader.
To keep the focus on his journey, Haj said he made adjustments, cutting smaller subplots from the production.
The adjusted focus was the inspiration for the production’s title, “The Making of a King.”
“Hal is a young man trying to find his own way, wanting to find his own path,” Haj said.
“I think that’s a story any young person can resonate with.”
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