‘Henry V’ on stage in Conway, Little Rock, Russellville next weekend

‘Henry V’ on stage in Conway, Little Rock, Russellville next weekend


Special to The Free Weekly

Five professional actors, four of them Arkansas-based, play close to two-score characters in William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”

The joint production, created by the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and the Silver Lake, N.Y.-based Shake on the Lake Theatre Company, will present five Arkansas performances — three in Conway, one each in Little Rock and Russellville — before heading to upstate New York for an extended run.

Director Chad Bradford has long-standing connections to both theater companies. He was the most recent managing director of Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre while it was based at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway; was its touring director and manager from 2006-19; and a company member for nine seasons. He served as associate artistic director and founding company member at Shake on the Lake from 2016-22.

The link has resulted in several Arkansas-New York co-productions over the years that have involved travel for Arkansas actors, “but this is the first time every rehearsal will be in Arkansas,” he says.

That’s because of Bradford’s “day” job, he explains. He’s associate director of the Children’s Theatre at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and “there was no way I could leave for 2½ months; this lets me still direct, but do it here.”

Bradford has trimmed the play to bring the running time down to approximately 90 minutes, but he felt compelled to stop there. “There are so many beautiful things” in Shakespeare’s original, “I couldn’t cut any more.” He has dragged in a few bits of the previous plays “Henry IV,” Parts 1 and 2, “for context.”

Shakespeare presents King Henry V, who was rakehell Prince Hal in both parts of “Henry IV,” as a reluctant leader who at first rebels against his newly acquired position of power. Ultimately, he sees the importance of self-sacrifice for his people and the good of his nation, especially when confronted with the aggressive enmity of France.

Quinn Gasaway plays King Henry — and gets to deliver the famous “St. Crispin’s Day” speech before the pivotal Battle of Agincourt. Matt Duncan plays the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dauphin of France, Nym, Fluellen and Erpingham. Selena Mykenzie-Gordon plays Westmoreland, Nell Quickly, French Princess Katherine and the Duke of Orleans. Ash Winkfield plays Exeter, Bardolph and the Duke of Bourbon. Tim Cooper plays Ely, Monty, Pistol, Scroop, the King of France and Macmorris. All five play additional subsidiary characters and have roles in the “chorus.”

Gasaway, Duncan and Cooper have been frequent performers on stages in Central Arkansas. Winkfield is from New York; Mykenzie-Gordon is from Northwest Arkansas, a Master of Fine Arts graduate student at the University of Arkansas.

They affect the change between characters, Bradford explains, through “changes in vests, hats, voices, body stance.”

“Imagination (is) at the forefront of all our productions,” he adds.

The production features a lot of props, he adds, on Vinny Mraz’s minimal, tourable set.

The covid-19 pandemic put the Shakespeare Theatre, which had spent more than a decade at UCA, on hold; the university is now pursuing its own summer theater project. Bradford brought back Mary Ruth Stewart, “who had been executive director for a million years at UCA,” to head the now-independent operation and incorporate it as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Why “Henry V”?

“Because Shake on the Lake had never done it before,” Bradford says. “We had done (Shakespeare) comedies and tragedies, but” — with the exception of “Richard III” — “we hadn’t dived into histories before.”

Many productions play up the martial aspects of the play, but, Bradford says, “it’s not a glorification of war if you actually look at the text. The epilogue tells you it was all for naught.”



William Shakespeare’s

‘Henry V’

WHEN & WHERE — 7 p.m. July 11 & 14, Hendrix Village in Conway; 6:30 p.m. July 12, Amerine/Calhoun Glass Box, Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock; and 7:30 p.m. July 15, Witherspoon Auditorium at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville

COST — $15-$25

INFO — eventbrite.com/cc/arkansas-shakespeare-theatre-presents-3356699 or my.arkmfa.org/10484/10690

FYI — In case of inclement weather, the Conway performances will move to the Red Curtain Theatre, 913 Oak St.

Categories: Theater