Galway's Druid Theatre Company will return for a fourth highly anticipated engagement to the Lincoln Center Festival this month with the already critically acclaimed play cycle DruidShakespeare: The History Plays, a new theatrical adaptation by celebrated Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe that's based on William Shakespeare’s history plays Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V.
The epic production is directed by the company's Tony Award-winning director Garry Hynes, and the performances will run from July 7–19 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College.
O’Rowe’s fast paced and elegant adaptation of each of the history plays has already won plaudits in Ireland and will be presented either as a marathon experience or in two consecutive installments, depending on your preferred performance schedules.
Altogether the plays all cohere to form an epic story of families at war and the making of nations, but DruidShakespeare: The History Plays has other laudable ambitious aims too, firstly in its engrossing exploration of English history as seen through an Irish lens.
O'Rowe never loses sight of the fact that Shakespeare was writing his history plays at a time when Ireland was itself often beset by the crown forces sent to halt Irish rebellions with varying degrees of success or failure. That awareness contextualizes all that unfolds with a fascinating dual purpose.
These increasingly hostile expeditions into Ireland often found their way into Shakespeare's writing and they are referred to frequently throughout Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V.
A king since he was a child, Richard II’s story is all about the loss of innocence and the changes it brings. When Richard finds that his throne is under threat he must ask himself if a man who has been a king since can ever become a mere man and how might such a man might now live?
Henry IV’s story is about the price of overweening male arrogance, an evergreen subject. Having pulled the crown off his cousin’s head, Henry instantly divides up the support of longstanding houses, enraging noble families and even squandering the loyalty of his own supporters until at last he has only his own family left to turn to.
Henry V’s story could be described on the surface as a coming-of-age one where a formerly dissolute man is tasked with growing up at last. Henry has squandered his youth in the company of fair weather friends and a string of faithless mistresses, until at last he must face up to his daunting but unavoidable fate as heir to the throne.
To keep his crown he has no choice but to mend his ways and win the hearts and minds of the nobility and unite his country. Whether he can or not is the focus of his fast paced tale, which interestingly has actress Aisling O'Sullivan in the title role.
Shakespeare’s history plays are an absorbing mix of ambition, betrayal and rebellion, and each will be performed with an exceptional Irish cast who will bring live music, swashbuckling action and a rousing parade of characters including one of Shakespeare’s greatest comic creations, Falstaff, to the New York stage.
The members of the Druid ensemble this July include Druid legends Marie Mullen, Marty Rea, Aaron Monaghan, Rory Nolan, John Olohan, Aisling O’Sullivan, Garrett Lombard, Clare Barrett, Derbhle Crotty, Gavin Drea, Bosco Hogan, Karen McCartney, and Charlotte McCurry. All will play a multitude of characters across the four plays.
To explain the ambitious cycle of works for a general audience, Hynes and O’Rowe will participate in a free symposium co-produced by Fordham University and National University of Ireland Galway on July 9 from 1-5 p.m. at Fordham University’s Generoso Pope Memorial Auditorium (Columbus Avenue at 62nd Street).
Following the July 14 performance there will also be an onstage discussion featuring Hynes, O’Rowe, and other participants to be announced at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. This event will be free to ticket holders for the July 14 performance.
For tickets to DruidShakespeare: The History Plays call CenterCharge at 212-721-6500 or visit the festival box office located at Avery Fisher Hall, 65th Street and Broadway.