The Folger Shakespeare Theatre is mounting Shakespeare's "Henry V" at a time when this nation gathers around our president at his inauguration, just as Henry's British subjects were buoyed by his leadership during a time of unrest.
The plot finds Prince Hal of "Henry IV" matured into a young King Henry contemplating an impending war with France. His heroic side emerges the night before the Battle of Agincourt when, disguised, he rallies his men to battle as a "band of brothers."
The title role is played by Zach Appelman, who makes his Folger debut direct from Broadway's "War Horse," about another war involving England. Like all its cast members, he understudied several parts, playing six or seven characters over the course of a year. In the same manner, many actors in "Henry V" will cover multiple roles.
"That play was my warm-up for British military history," he said. "I find Henry fascinating because he's grown from the teenager in 'Henry IV' into a normal young man plunged into an extraordinary situation. We can still see glimpses of a young Hal in the flashbacks that mirror the king-to-be. They tell us a lot about how he will handle himself and express his eloquence.
|Where: Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE|
|When: Through March 3|
|Info: $30 to $68; 202-544-7077; folger.edu|
"Without making a direct analogy, I believe that this play is a good choice to stage at this point in our nation's history because it emphasizes leadership in a divided country. Henry's band of brothers came together because of his love for the soldiers and the love they felt for their ruler. Shakespeare constantly incorporates humor in strong drama and heart-breaking moments in his comedies. Despite the seriousness of this play, it has humorous moments along with electrifying speeches."
Appelman's rich background in Shakespeare began with his graduate work at Yale, after he received a B.F.A. at UC Santa Barbara. Along the way, he earned a black belt in karate, and he credits that skill for his stage presence. After receiving an M.F.A. in acting, he moved into repertory theaters and diverse roles ranging from Flute in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to Biff Loman in "Death of a Salesman." One of his favorite roles was Septimus in "Arcadia," a play that introduced him to Tom Stoppard's power of writing rich language.
He continues to increase his scope by spreading his talents to television and film. As a co-star on Showtime's popular "Homeland," he played the aide to the vice president. This week, "Kill Your Darlings" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film about the beat generation stars Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") as Alan Ginsberg and Appelman as his anti-Semitic, homophobic college roommate.
"One-hundred percent of getting inside a new character like Henry V starts with the text. I approach each assignment by forgetting preconceived ideas and simply begin reading it over and over until I've gotten enough information to get into the realm of interpretation. 'War Horse' prepared me for this play by Shakespeare about England at war with France. It's exciting to perform in the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre, a unique space with an intimate feel that allows you to connect with the audience."