COURTESY BRAD GODA
Nilva Panimidim, left, as Exeter, Elizabeth Wolfe as Henry, Kathryn Xian as Westmoreland, and Erin SuJan Kim as the chorus are shown in the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival's production of "Henry V," directed and conceived by Tony Pisculli.
‘La Femme Henry V’
An all-female cast performs Shakespeare's fourth play on the House of Plantagent
Director Tony Pisculli continues his practice of casting all women in his productions for the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival with his upcoming interpretation of "Henry V."
THE HAWAII SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL PRESENTS "HENRY V"
Where: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Aug. 14 through 16, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 17
Tickets: $18 (Friday and Saturday), $14 (Sunday) and $10 (Aug. 14)
Call: 550-8457 or visit HonoluluBoxOffice.com
The play, which opens this weekend at downtown's The ARTS at Marks Garage, is the fourth in a series that follows the ups and downs of the English kings of the House of Plantagent, from ill-fated Richard II through the reign of Henry IV and his son, Henry V.
In "Henry V," the previously irresponsible Prince Hal succeeds his father as King of England and leads the English to an upset victory over the French at the battle of Agincourt. Henry then becomes heir to the throne of France and, in theory, unites the two nations under his rule.
"The all-female cast is a bi-annual tradition at this point," Pisculli said via e-mail during the hectic final week of rehearsals.
"It takes a lot of pressure off the acting pool by freeing up men for the other two productions ('Othello' and the upcoming 'Merchant of Venice'). This year that was particularly important because 'Henry V' has a very large cast. There are originally 40-plus named parts, some of which I managed to eliminate through judicious editing, some of which I managed to cross-cast, but my final cast is still 22."
Gender-neutral casting of individual roles has become something of the norm at the festival in recent years, either for lack of male actors to play all the male characters, or to accommodate women who would otherwise have no roles to play. An advantage of Pisculli's all-female productions is that they avoid the forced suspension of reality that enters into the equation when some or most of the male characters are played by men and others by women.
Pisculli cites the films of Luc Besson as his inspiration in producing "Henry V."
"(It's) the idea of woman as weapon. 'La Femme Nikita' and 'The Fifth Element' both feature women who are incredibly capable killers. But they don't want to be killers. They want to love and be loved. ... I don't call it a concept because it hasn't really extended into the production, but it was a jumping off point."
As for his decision to set "Henry V" in "an alternative reality 1940s" rather than 1415, Pisculli said he wanted to distance the historical war against France in the early 15th century "from the current conflict."
Another change is substituting knives for swords in the combat scenes. Pisculli said that the relatively "tight quarters" at the downtown venue was one reason for the change, but it makes sense artistically as well.
"Knives are a much more personal, a much more intimate weapon, raising the stakes for reluctant killers. Knives are also more appropriate for the near-contemporary costuming," he said.