Shakespeare’s warrior king Henry V is back in action this week, leading the English army into battle with the French, with all the drama, testosterone and inspirational speechifying that comes before (and after), presented by Jobsite Theater in Tampa’s David A. Straz Center complex. Previews begin Wednesday; Friday is opening night.
Artistic director David M. Jenkins is directing Henry V, on the heels of the company’s pre-pandemic 2020 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was the most successful show in Jobsite’s two-decade history.
The words – Shakespeare’s brilliant poetic verse – are unchanged because, well, that’s why we’re all here. This Henry V is set in a vaguely futuristic world, with Jeremy Douglass’ pounding industrial score.
It’s a “reboot,” rather than an “adaptation” or, heaven forbid, a “modernization.”
It definitely won’t look like the Globe Theatre in the 16th Century. It doesn’t have to.
“In his own day, Shakespeare didn’t do anything in period,” Jenkins points out. “He did it modern day. He did Julius Caesar with everybody dressed like Elizabethans. So he was a modern playwright when he wrote. And we’ve tried to continue to make it modern.”
Shakespeare’s stories are timeless.
“I’m a member of the choir. I think the plays have existed for over 500 years for a reason. It’s some of the best theater written. He stole from people, of course, and people have stolen from him, of course. And it’s an opportunity for us to bring a wider swath of the community into the theater. The Shakespeare productions we do are usually among our best-attended, if not our best-attended, every year.”
At any rate, Jenkins sees distinct parallels between the story of Henry (played by Adam Workman) and modern times. It’s all right there in the text.
“This play is about this guy, this regular guy, who spent his youth in whorehouses and casinos, hanging out with thieves, doing all the bad stuff, who becomes King,” the director observes. “He’s handed the crown, and he BECOMES King.
“This guy goes against all the odds, and through the fact that he’s a regular human being – he has his ear to the ground and understands what it’s like to bleed, and to starve – is able to then help guide a people through.
“The questions of leadership, and what it means to be a leader, and what it means to be a good citizen and all that’s in the play, I said to myself ‘Man, that’s not irrelevant right now. We’re grappling with all that same stuff.’ So this is a huge part of why I wanted to do Henry V, and not another play.”
The other seven members of the cast play multiple roles, including the chorus that address the audience during the prologue.
“As with any play,” Jenkins says, “the audience and the performers are coming together at the beginning and making some sort of agreement: This is what we’re doing. It’s blatant in this production, in terms of the way that we come out and speak directly to the audience before we get started. And let them know hey, this is what’s going on. And this is how we’re going to do it.”
The English and French armies, the epic battles, they are to be imagined.
“I’ve never done a cut so – what I would consider to be brutal,” explains Jenkins. “But Henry V, if you just performed it straight through without taking an intermission, it would run over three hours. I think that would be a little exhausting on an audience. Paying attention to Shakespeare is difficult enough – even when people are doing it great.”
Jobsite’s production, for a socially-distanced Jaeb Theater audience, lasts for two hours and five minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.
Details and tickets here.