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A CurtainUp Review
DruidShakespeare: The History Plays

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown..— King Henry IV, from Henry IV, Part II
Marty Rea as Richard II
You really have to hand it to Garry Hynes for her Herculean staging of Shakespeare's English history cycle — Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2) , and Henry V in her DruidShakespeare: The History Plays. Hynes imbues these plays with a distinct Irish sensibility and gender-blind casting. Now in a brief run as part of the Lincoln Center Festivalat John Jay College's Gerald W. Lynch Theater, this is a potent rendering of Shakespeare a la Hynes.

Hynes is no stranger to the Lincoln Center Festival. This project becomes her fourth—and most ambitious—theater piece to date. And, in collaboration with the Irish author Mark O'Rowe, who has conflated the four history plays into a new-fangled one, she is working on a huge canvas.

If the scope and breadth of this project is impressive, so is its risk-taking. With its re-gendering many characters you will see female performers stepping in as Bolingbroke/ Henry IV (the excellent Derbhle Crotty) and Hal/ Henry V (the feisty Aisling O'Sullivan); and male performers slipping into the skins of Mistress Quickly (the outlandishly hoop-skirted John Olahan) and Bardolph (the expressive Clare Barrett)—to mention a few gender-benders. and it's all done with no apologies.

Staging this historical behemoth (scholars often nickname it The Henriad) is a rare event, even in the Big Apple. So if you have never witnessed it in live performance, now is your ideal opportunity to bite in and get a real taste of these histories that retell the core national narrative of the English monarchy.

This epic theater event is neatly divided in two: Druid Shakespeare: Part 1 includes Richard II and Henry IV, Part I; and Part 2, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V. You can see the event on two separate days or as a full-length marathon (The marathon hasthree intermissions). But no matter what you decide on, it's a huge swath of history, all served up in seven hours (the marathon has three intermissions).

I decided to go to the marathon—and was glad I did. Yes, it is a stretch to sit through, especially that last leg where one witnesses Henry V's phenomenal morphing from wastrel to ideal king, straight through to his bone-weary triumph at Agincourt. But there's never , ever a time it sags —from the first moment Richard II (with white mime makeup on his face) skips onto the stage to its closing scene with Falstaff's death, the event is enthralling with a capital "E. Indeed Hynes is the epitome of a director who knows how to keep things moving along. So watching these history plays, back-to-back, felt like the rough equivalent of discovering a four-leaf clover growing out of New York cement.

There's no doubt Hynes takes poetic license, now and then, especially with the staging of Falstaff (Rory Nolan). She obviously wants to keep him in the picture here, and not have him fade out (the newly-crowned Henry V had coldly rejected him at the closing of Henry IV: Part 11!) Hynes, in fact, gives Falstaff pride of place by having his off-stage death in Henry V occur in the very final scene. Indeed it's a poignant—and fitting--tribute to one of Shakespeare's greatest dramatic creations.

Over 100 characters are presented in this historical pageant, all brought gloriously alive by 13 performers from the Druid Theatre Company. You see the death of kings, the grooming of new monarchs, the rise and fall of nobles, the fickleness of those who follow kings, and much, much more.

This was the first time I had heard Shakespeare's verse uniformly spoken with an Irish brogue. This was not only memorable, but gave new proof that the Bard belongs to everybody.

Indeed the Irish-born Hynes (1998 Tony Award for Beauty Queen of Leenane) has scored another homerun in New York.

Druid Shakespeare: The History Plays
Written by William Shakespeare, adapted by Mark O'Rowe
Directed by Garry Hynes
Cast: Clare Barrett (Servant to the Gardener/ Keeper), Derbhle Crotty (Bolingbroke/ Henry IV/ Montjoy), Gavin Drea (Aumerle/ Poins/ Vernon/ Gloucester/ Rambures/ Williams), Bosco Hogan (John of Gaunt/ Bishop of Carlisle/ Gardener/ Glendower/ Westmoreland/ Shallow/ Charles VI), Garrett Lombard (Hotspur/ Bullcalf/ Ambassador/ Fluellen/ Grandpre), Karen McCartney (Scroop/ John of Lancaster/ Boy), Charlotte McCurry (Queen Isabel/ Blunt/ Peto), Aaron Monaghan (Mowbray/ Worcester/ Exton/ Pistol/ Chorus/ Dauphin), Marie Mullen (Northumberland/ Lord Chief Justice/ Silence/ Exeter), Rory Nolan (Bagot/ Falstaff/ Cambridge/ Gower/ Orleans), Aisling O'Sullivan (Hal/King Henry V), John Olohan (York/ Mistress Quickly/ Douglas/ Warwick/ Governor of Harfleur) and Marty Rea (Richard II/ Francois/ Constable of France)
Sets: Francis O'Connor
Costumes: Doreen McKenna
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Music: Conor Linehan
Lighting: James F. Ingalls
Movement: David Bolger
Voice Coach: Andrew Wade
Fight Director: Donal O'Farrell At John Jay College - Gerald W. Lynch Theater, 899 10th Ave. (between 58th and 59th Sts.) For tickets and more information, visit
From 07/07/2015; closing 07/19/15.
Tuesday, July 7 at 7 PM (Part 1, preview); Wednesday, July 8 at 7 PM (Part 2, preview); Thursday, July 9 at 7 PM (Part 1, preview); Friday, July 10 at 7 PM (Part 2, preview); Saturday, July 11 at 2 PM (Marathon); Sunday, July 12 at 2 PM (Marathon); Tuesday, July 14 at 7 PM (Part 1); Wednesday, July 15 at 7 PM (Part 2); Thursday, July 16 at 7 PM (Part 1); Friday, July 17 at 7 PM (Part 2); Saturday, July 18 at 2 PM (Marathon); Sunday, July 19 at 2 PM (Marathon).
Running time: First Half approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission; Second Half approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission; Marathon approximately 7 hours, with intermissions.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on marathon press performance of 07/11/15
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