Over the next two years, the Ithaca Shakespeare Company in New York will present a cycle of William Shakespeare's English history plays, beginning with Richard II currently running at the Hangar Theatre.
Shakespeare wrote 10 plays on English history, of which eight form a continuous narrative sequence. Ithaca Shakespeare will be combining and condensing these eight plays into a series of five productions, one for each king in the sequence. The plays will be performed over the next two years, alternating between indoor productions at the Hangar and outdoor productions over the summer at Cornell Plantations.
The series will continue with Henry IV at Cornell Plantations this July, Henry V at the Hangar in February 2016, Henry VI at Cornell Plantations in July 2016, and finish with Richard III at the Hangar in the fall of 2016.
"I think this will be one of the most exciting things we've ever done," ISC Artistic Director Stephen Ponton said in a press release. "The history plays are my favorites of all of Shakespeare's works, and collectively I think they are his single greatest achievement. These are absolutely not dry, dusty history lessons. They're the original Game of Thrones—wild, exciting plays that chronicle almost 100 years of violent conflict for the English throne. They're full of life and variety and contain the greatest comic character Shakespeare ever created in Falstaff, one of his most powerful female roles in Queen Margaret, and some of the most thrilling staging he ever imagined."
Each production in this series will be connected to the ones before and after it through introductions and linking scenes, so that they form a single, continuous narrative. "We're approaching it kind of like a movie franchise," says Ponton. "We hope people will be able to experience the whole sequence, so we're working hard to tie the stories together and make them clear. So don't worry if you're not familiar with these plays or have found them confusing in the past—we'll make sure everyone understands who these characters are and what they're fighting for."
Richard II is the play that starts it all. It sets up the basic conflict that carries through the rest of the plays. "Richard II is such a rich play," Ponton says. "It asks the question, what do you do when the person in power misuses his authority? Richard is the lawful king, but he abuses his power to the point that the other nobles are driven to rise up against him—only to discover, when they succeed, that they have opened the door for others to do the same to them. This sets up the cycle of conflict and rebellion that drives the country into the chaos of civil war in Henry VI and reaches its final, stunning conclusion in Richard III. At the same time, Richard II himself is a fascinating character, one of those typical Shakespearean tragic figures who loses everything and in the process manages to find himself—just a little too late."
This will be the second year that Ithaca Shakespeare has performed at the Hangar Theatre, after a successful production of The Tempest there in February 2014. The history sequence is being offered as part of ISC's three-year celebration of Shakespearean Milestones, in commemoration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 2014 and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.
Richard II will be performed through Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 4 p.m.
For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit the Ithaca Shakespeare Company's website at www.ithacashakespeare.org. Tickets will also be available by calling the Hangar Theatre at 607-273-8588, or at the door before performances.
February 17, 2015