With the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in DC still going strong, Brave Spirits Theatre asks its audiences to consider the role women have in theatre beyond the reach of the festival. With the first majorly re-gendered production that the company has done, Henri IV provides its wonderful cast of women (and a few men) the chance to tackle a traditionally male-dominated show.
The first part of Shakespeare’s Henri IV Repertory concerns the turbulent reign of Queen Henri IV (Annette Mooney Wasno), who has just taken the throne from Queen Rachel II. While her ne’er-do-well daughter Hallie (Sarah Anne Sillers) is carousing around London with her companions Falstaff (Karen Lange) and Poins (Nicola Collett), Henri is facing rebellion from the Percy family, led by the tempestuous Hotspur (Briana Manente). Tensions come to a head at the Battle of Shrewsbury as the future of England’s monarchy hangs in the balance.
Director Kevin Finkelstein deftly condenses the 67 characters of the cycle to fit the 12 actors in this production, 10 of whom are women. He keeps the story fresh not only with his re-gendered casting, but with his live musical performances of songs from “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” to a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah” in Welsh.
Costume Designer Kat Fleshman helps the audience differentiate between the various characters with a beautiful combination of jackets, tunics, and corsets along with the traditional badass combination of leggings and boots. Sound design by Sarah O’Halloran and fight choreography by Megan Behm ground the piece in the world of Shakespeare while lighting by Jason Aufdem-Brinke and set design by Rachael Knoblauch assist to emphasize Brave Spirits’ tribute to “verse and violence.”
In order to tackle this lengthy and verbose work, a company of incredibly talented actors is needed and Brave Spirits is fortunate to have a company in which there are no weak links. Every actor stands out in their various roles, no matter how big or small. However, there are two actresses whose breakout moments throughout the show left me in chills. Manente as Hotspur is a vision in leather who perfectly embodies the role of the hotblooded rebel. From the cadence of her voice to every physical choice she makes, she comes away with the show in the palm of her hand. Jill Tighe as Peto does not say much, but her Act I Finale of “One Tin Soldier” is achingly and stunningly belted as both sides of the rebellion lie in wait for the coming conflict.
As a woman in theatre, I am so appreciative of everything that Brave Spirits is doing. Women make up 51% of the population and yet only 16% of Shakespeare’s characters are female. Brave Spirits boldly and beautifully makes the statement that not only can women play male characters, but male characters can simply be women.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.