SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Tuesday July 31, the Saratoga Shakespeare Company will begin their production of “Henry IV” parts one and two combined, directed by David Girard. This season marks the 18th year of the company providing free theatre in Congress Park. The company celebrates themes of redemption, rebellion, and reconciliation in Shakespeare’s plays with their “Summer of Transformation.”
“Henry IV” is inspired by the real Henry Bolingbroke’s rise to power after overthrowing King Richard during the 14th century. In the play, Henry’s son Hal starts as an “immature prince who has no place, to becoming a king,” explains Girard. “Henry has a transformational moment as well when he realizes the sacrifices he had to make to ensure his son is set up for success.”
Much of “Henry IV” follows Hal as he decides whether to step up to his duties or continue to immerse himself in the chaotic and beautiful culture of commoners - where viewers meet one of Shakespeare’s great comedic creations, Sir John Falstaff.
Despite those antics, the core is one of fathers, sons, and father-like figures. With this theme in mind, Shakespeare, and now Girard, took liberties with the text, making the story more approachable to their respective contemporary audiences.
“The stories are universal, but even then, Shakespeare is not coming up with new ideas. He’s taking existing material and repackaging it, for lack of a better term,” explained Girard. “Especially with Saratoga Shakespeare, we love to change the world; we like to sometimes update the play, give it a more 2018 flavor.”
The cast for “Henry IV” is made up of eight actors, with some from Saratoga Shakespeare’s Young Theatre Professional Company, the company’s outreach program. Broadway actor Kevin McGuire will appear as the title character.
While Girard only has eight actors to play 24 roles, he insists that each makes “very clear, clean, idiosyncratic choices for each one of their characters to ground that person in their world.”
The universe that Girard and his team have created is one grounded heavily in what true Elizabethan drama is, while adapting to the contemporary world that we live in. This very well may be the only way to reflect the true edginess inherent in Shakespeare’s plays, especially “Henry IV.”
Admission is free and shows are 6 p.m. July 31 to Aug. 4 on the Alfred Z. Solomon Stage in Congress Park.