It’s a Shakespearean story of courage, faith and loyalty: A young man must leave his rebellious ways behind and learn how to be king. For the first time, two plays—Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V—will be staged for the free annual Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park. “We wanted to do two plays that were so epic in scope and epic in storytelling that it would make this an event for St. Louis and our audience,” says Shakespeare Festival St. Louis executive director Rick Dildine.
It has taken more than four years to put all the right pieces of the puzzle together, but it’s been a labor of love that Dildine says will be well worth the journey. Most of the cast members will undertake the daunting challenge of performing dual roles in both plays, led by Tim Ocel and Bruce Longworth—two of the best directors of Shakespeare productions in the country, Dildine notes. “With their deep understanding of his text and stories, they are passionately collaborating on the projects together.” And set designer Scott Neale was charged with creating a single set that fits both the intimate family drama setting of Henry IV and the sweeping epic production of Henry V in 14th-century Europe.
Longworth, who has been teaching Shakespeare to Webster University theater students for 30 years, returns to the director’s chair to once again collaborate with veteran local actor Jim Butz. The pair worked together during the festival’s 2010 production of Hamlet. “Jim is a tremendously talented actor with a huge heart,” Longworth says. “He’s very exciting to work with because he’s entirely present in the process.”
The cast currently maintains an intense rehearsal schedule of eight-hour days, six days a week. Butz, who must carry the arc of his character over the two shows—as Prince Hal transforms into King Henry V, has a deep love for all things Shakespearean. “It’s the quality of the writing, and the richness of the story and characters. And there’s something very special about the Shakespeare Festival in the Park, as one of our cultural institutions, being a free gift to the community that is a collective experience of listening to these century-old plays.” Butz’s character is conflicted throughout the productions, making for a demanding role. When Prince Hal’s father, Henry IV, usurps the throne from King Richard, Hal becomes the next English heir. “That’s a pretty huge mantle to have placed upon you," Butz notes. "He knows he should buck up soon because he’s going to be the King of England, but he rebels against that.”
With two dynamic plays this year, Butz says the festival has something for everyone. “It’s an action-packed, sweeping drama, with a lot of humor, good fight scenes, and some questions of morality, as well.” And Dildine is most looking forward to seeing how attendees react to the first-time staging of back-to-back performances. “We’re sharing something very unique and unprecedented with our audiences. This is a chance for them to experience something rarely seen in the country or the world.”
HENRY IV & HENRY V
WHEN: 8 p.m. May 17-June 15 (except Tuesdays); Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 - alternating nights beginning May 17, Henry V - alternating nights beginning May 24; Double feature performances of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V on June 7 & 14; Green Show at 6:30 p.m. before each mainstage production
WHERE: Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park
INFO: 531-9800 or sfstl.com