Karen and I went to see DruidShakespeare as part of the Lincoln Center Festival on 7/11. This was a production by the Druid Theatre Company of Galway, Ireland. Garry Hynes, their artistic director, hired Mark O'Rowe to take four Shakespeare history plays - - *Richard II*, *Henry IV Part One*, *Henry IV Part Two*, and *Henry V* - - and cut them to fit into a single evening. The plays ran 90 minutes, 90 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes, with short intermissions on the ends and a 30-minute intermission in the middle. The whole experience lasted just over seven hours.
Karen and I love these marathon experiences. We saw the Druids do a J. M. Synge marathon at Lincoln Center Festival back in 2006, also directed by Hynes, and we loved that, so we had to see this. This show wasn't as satisfying as the Synge, but we still enjoyed it.
Hynes is a brilliant director - - she makes the most of what she's got. All four plays took place on the same unit stage and she used it with inventiveness. A few things went womp womp (Karen pointed out the clumsiness of people dying in *Henry V* and then being dragged to the back of the stage, so they wouldn't be in the way of the living actors), but she's a first-class director. The most interesting thing in the show, for me, was their use of women in male roles. In the program they called this "gender-blind" casting, but they only had one man in a female role, so the term "gender-blind" seems a bit of a stretch. The ensemble had thirteen actors (seven men, six women) playing nearly 100 roles. These are not actors who shy away from being theatrical, which I really love. And it's a thrill to hear those delicious Irish accents for a whole day.
The greatest performance in the show was by Derbhle Crotty as Henry IV. She had an incredible facility with the language and really commanded the stage. The arc of her performance was fascinating, in gender terms: she had her long hair down throughout, and spoke in her own voice, so even though she was playing a king, on a basic level she "read" as female. This wasn't a distraction, it was just an extra level to her performance. But it got even more complex in her death scene: she was wearing a sort of gauzy dressing gown, and you could see her breasts through the fabric. It seemed like a strange choice on the part of the director and designer, but again, it added depth to her performance.
The other stand-out was Aaron Monaghan, who played small roles in *R2* and *H41*, played the hilarious supporting role of Pistol in *H42*, and played three meaty and wildly different supporting roles in *H5*: Pistol again, the Chorus (aka narrator), and the Dauphin. He's a marvel. I'd also like to mention Marie Mullen, who was one of the stars of the Synge marathon - - she's in her seventies, at least, and oozes gravitas and theatrical know-how.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out a few weak points in the show. The biggest issue was the actor playing Henry V, Aisling O'Sullivan. She just wasn't that good. She mistakes intensity for power. It seemed like she spent the whole show shouting or growling, speaking in the lowest part of her voice (perhaps in an effort to sound manly), but not using the variety of vocal color needed for the role. I said how I love that the actors are so theatrical - - her performance was stagy, which isn't the same thing. She was the weak link, which is a shame, because it was a central role in the show.
They had a man, John Oiohan, playing Mistress Quickly, and what a strange choice they made for her. He has a big white bushy beard and was wearing a stuffed bustier and a hot pink hoop over his pants. Not a hoop skirt, just the hoop. Talk about a womp womp - - jeez, that was a misfire. It made no sense at all - - the women were so authentic and unfussy playing the men, and this is their conception of a man playing a woman?
Most hilarious of all was what we call the "disco wall". The wall on the right side of the stage was covered with mirrored tile, a sort of Studio 54 effect that wasn't at all in keeping with the rest of the set, which was industrial, with a dirt floor. Karen pointed out that whenever the door was opened and shut on the second level, you could see the whole wall shake. This wouldn't be so apparent in a normal set, but with all those little mirrors reflecting the light, you couldn't miss it. It was cheesy, totally high school play.
My wish for the next visit by the Druids: a Samuel Beckett marathon, please!