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SMC prepares all-female ‘Henry V’ performance

| Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When audiences first see director Mark Abram-Copenhaver’s spring production of “Henry V” at Saint Mary’s, they might be surprised at the lack of male actors.

The play, which takes place April 3-6, is the first of its kind to premiere at Saint Mary’s. Every role from the servants to the king herself is portrayed and brought to life by an all-female ensemble at O’Laughlin Auditorium, sophomore cast member Claire Bleecker said.

Abram-Copenhaver is the visionary behind the unusual concept of an all-female production of this Shakespearean history. By cutting and rearranging the text, he hopes to open its context for creative and thematic interpretation, Bleecker said.

Bleecker said she is excited to say she is part of an all-female production of a Shakespeare play, especially one so fueled by masculinity.

“There are three or four actual girl parts, so this is a play that I would never get a chance to be in outside of Saint Mary’s,” Bleecker said. “Back in my hometown, I played Hermia in a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and Luciana in ‘Comedy of Errors,’ and they’re both basically the same people.  They’re not funny or tragic, they’re just objects of love for the people in the play.”

Bleecker said although she has a rather small part, playing the character of Bardolph, she thinks the male role will be a great experience for her.

“[Bardolph is] complex and has actual characteristics, whereas the female parts that I played in the past really don’t have actual characteristics,” Bleecker said.

Critics of Shakespeare often point out that the major flaws in the female characters are their lack of depth and layers, Bleecker said.

“When women are put into sticky situations in Shakespeare plays, their narrative is gone about in this light, sort of funny way,” she said.  “There’s this dichotomy where the women are light and the men are taken very seriously.”

In addition to playing with the script, Abram-Copenhaver has brought in various speakers to better inform the cast about what they are saying and performing, Bleecker said.

Professor of Shakespeare studies Christopher Cobb recently assisted the ensemble in understanding the historical background of the play’s time frame and setting, Bleecker said.

The cast also consists of women who are not Saint Mary’s students, Bleecker said.

“We have one of the employees of the College … one of the ladies who works in the Husking Center … [and] a math teacher who graduated from Saint Mary’s,” she said. “It’s a good range from freshmen to seniors.”

One significant character trait Abram-Copenhaver wants each of his actresses to focus on in their performances is that they are not women playing men but women playing women, Bleecker said.

“Essentially our characters are the same as men, as in we’re not just purely comical or love objects,” she said. “We’re tragic and sad and funny and everything else too. [Mark] says, ‘You’re not playing men. You’re playing women. You’re women playing these characters.’

“That re-enforces the fact that we can play men [and] women can play complex characters. We’re not going to pretend to be men, because we can’t fool anyone there. It’s a major interpretation decision that he made and I agree with,” she said.

In performing in an all-female “Henry V” Bleecker said she feels there is a need for this interpretation of a classic play to showcase the strength women can bring to such a story.

“In history, we as women look back and men have always ruled,” she said.
“Men were always the leaders, always, always, always, always. But now we’re at a time in history where we have an all-women’s cast in a show.

“Here’s a real example of a time when women are making the decisions and acting all the parts and being complex and beautiful.  A little girl in the audience seeing King Henry? Yes, that’s going to have an impact. This is a ‘her’ story of King Henry V.”

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