If you have ever wondered what it would have been like to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe, you can get your chance this Saturday at the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express Troupe’s production of “Henry IV, Part One.”
SSE is performing at the Saybrook College Underbrook Theater courtesy of Berkeley and Pierson colleges and Piersonite Casey Miner ’05, who worked with the group’s Young Company Theater Camp this past summer. Hailing from Staunton, Va., SSE is the travelling portion of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Company. The group has regular performances at their Blackfriars Theater, a replica of the first indoor theater in the English-speaking world. Originally SSE was too booked to make an appearance at Yale, but when another group cancelled, Miner jumped at the opportunity.
SSE is exceptional for its traditionalist approach to Shakespearean theater. The actors double up on roles, play opposite genders, use little scenery and they perform in universal lighting — with all the lights on.
“The SSE was founded on the simplest principles,” Bill Gordon, the director of tour operations and special programming, said. “Shakespeare’s plays work best when they’re performed under the staging conditions with which Shakespeare was familiar. We perform the works of Shakespeare as Shakespeare’s own troupe performed them.”
Still, the company recognizes they cannot replicate everything from the 16th century. Like companies did in Shakespeare’s time, the group uses contemporary dress and music. They use modern clothes and create their own musical arrangements to accompany Shakespeare’s lyrical sonnets. According to the group’s Web site, SSE is committed to preserving Shakespeare’s text while also connecting to modern audiences.
SSE has a three show repertoire. The other two plays on the “2003/2004 Excellent Motion Tour” are “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
“A ‘standard’ SSE Tour will generally include a tragedy or history, and a comedy,” Gordon said. “A third title might be a non-Shakespeare renaissance or a non-Shakespeare contemporary play.”
“Henry IV, Part One” is the first of Shakespeare’s “Henry Trilogy” — “Henry IV, Part Two” and “Henry V” being the other two.
“It’s a fun play for both actors and audiences due to its unique blend of comedy, history, and humor,” Gordon said. “It is, of course, the play that introduced Sir John Falstaff.”
SSE is made up of professional actors who go through a rigorous audition process, which culminates in New York.
“The vast majority of our actors have collegiate training,” Gordon said. “Several even have held master’s degrees.”
Yale is especially excited to host one of its own in this tour, Vanessa Mandeville Morosco, a graduate of the Yale Divinity School.
“Beware,” Morosco warned. “We ‘do it’ in ways you’ve never before experienced.”
What is so innovative about the group, though it would have been ordinary in the 16th century, is their emphasis on the audience.
“When you take Shakespeare out of his environment and shove him into a darkened hall, much of the magic is lost,” Gordon said. “SSE recovers that magic, in which Elizabethan audiences reveled.”
“The acting is amazing because the text is so clear,” Miner agreed. “It’s an energetic, participatory new type of theater, where the emphasis is on the acting instead of the lighting and the sound. It’s something you just have to see.”
This Saturday the group is performing “Henry IV, Part One” at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free.