Iowa City - Henry V is the last of Shakespeare's great history plays, and it falls in the middle of the cycle. It tells the tale of Henry V, king of England from 1413-22, and it serves as a prelude to the "War of the Roses" cycle (Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III) while at the same time concluding the tale of "Prince Hal" told in Henry IV part 1 & 2. It is also the penultimate production in Dreamwell's season of war plays.
I spoke with Kevin Moore, the President of Dreamwell's board, who plays Henry in the production.
Q: This is the first time Dreamwell has done a Shakespeare production. What challenges do you think the text has presented?
A: You have to take more time with Shakespeare than with modern texts - it's incredibly important to understand what you're saying, even more so because many people don't follow it as easily. It can be trickier to present the language in such a way that the audience can follow easily, and stay in the moment of the story. It can be tempting to simply memorize the order of the words, without considering the context, the intensity or the meter. If you don't have your hands firmly around the words, the audience won't either.
Q: Is this a difficult play to stage? How have you dealt with the problem of fitting Henry V into the UU?
A: Shakespeare himself addresses the difficulty of containing the "vasty fields of France" within the confines of a theatre; in fact he devotes a fair portion of the Chorus language to the impossibility of faithfully representing such a massive conflict on any stage, let alone a small venue in Iowa City. Dreamwell regulars know well the idiosyncrasies of the space we have. That said, Angie has taken the conventional limitations we may be thinking of, and turned them into strengths - the audience should come in expecting a very intimate experience - emotionally as well as physically.
Q: The Hundred Years War was a really long time ago. Are there universalites about war that speak to our modern times?
A: Oh, definitely! We've all been dealing with many of them for the last ten years. Dreamwell's "Season of War and Consequence", of which Henry V is the third installment, is an exploration of the universal truths (or lack thereof) of war and all that follows with it. Henry V is at once pro-war propaganda, a condemnation of devastation and pointless destruction, of the psychology and, we hope, an honest exploration of the honor of the fighting corps, and an equally honest investigation of the horrors that come with it. Shakespeare does not limit us to a single definition of his characters, nor his subject - that's what makes his work so infinitely compelling. Henry V gives us a true study of how war affects its leaders, its soldiers, its casualties, its home fronts, its motive and its inescapable and often heart-wrenching need.
Q: This play seems to be not only about history but about historiography - its structure allows us to examine the way in which we construct the past. What role do you think we as artists play in staging historical dramas?
A: Wow. That's a hell of a question! In researching this show, several of us found out about some glaring historical liberties that Shakespeare takes in this text. Jumping from the Battle of Agincourt, for example, to the union of Henry with Princess Katherine, deftly skips about five years of war, rebellion and political maneuvering that occurred in truth. In the text, we see this in a short monologue that is, frankly, a bit dense to follow when simply hearing the words.
As artists, I believe our obligation is less toward the revelation of some universal "Truth" and more to the honest investigation of what truths are lying under the surface of things. Shakespeare gives us the tools to build with - the juxtaposition of the estate of the different social classes, the exchange of French characters compared to the views of the English. The stark contrast between Henry's inspiring speeches and the harsh reality of the acts those inspired soldiers might undertake - and of the acts he proposes for them to take - create a wide range of possibilities that we hope our audience will have to take some real time and energy to chew on.
At the end of the day, if historical accuracy is your bag, Shakespeare's not your guy. If you want to take a peek at human truth (and maybe a few important lies), then he's inarguably the best there has ever been.
Q: Anything you want to add?
A:I haven't done Shakespeare for quite a while - doing so in Iowa City, which has long been blessed with such wonderful talent and respect for it is an amazing opportunity for me. It's perhaps the most daunting and rewarding opportunity an actor can embrace, and I hope the audience finds it as challenging and enjoyable as I do. I want to thank Angie and Josh for giving me this chance and for their sincere and wonderful support; and so many of the cast - especially Ottavia, Scott, and Nika - for helping me along the way.
Henry V opens June 3rd and runs until June 12th, 7:30 Friday & Saturday and 2:00 Sundays, at the Universalist Unitarian Society on 10 S Gilbert St. in Iowa City. Tickets are $12 ($10 for seniors; $8 students). For more information, see Dreamwell's website.
There's also a promotional video here, courtesy of Elizabeth Ross.
Photo Credits: Lizzie White