As Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 runs to be America’s first female president, one play at Yale is already seeking to address the notion of female leadership.
A modern rendition of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” opens Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Off Broadway Theater. The all-female cast of 10 represents trans and non-gender-binary actors in a political and theatrical endeavor.
Director Zach Elkind ’17 said the play creates more roles for women, drawing attention to systemic issues regarding their influence in contrast to men. He added that play embraces the combination of medieval and modern elements through its costumes and production effects.
“I was thinking about what it would mean to do a show about power and how we can change our systems of government, which is what the play is about,” Elkind said, describing Henry IV’s themes of rebellion and succession.
When “Henry IV” originally opened over four centuries ago, no women were featured in the play, and female roles were delegated to teenage boys. Elkind said that this limited the production’s impact, and that by having an all-female cast, new issues regarding gender roles are brought to light.
Sydney Garick ’18, the show’s producer, said the modern rendition celebrates “gleefully anachronistic” moments with lighting and stage combat, such as when women fight with swords. Garick added that the play is important as it tackles issues of empowerment and is of particular interest as Clinton runs for president this year.
“We’re in the thick of an election season, so I think it’s really interesting to watch a woman come to power in that way,” Garick said.
Elkind said that actors are dressed in a combination of modern and medieval clothing. This allows the audience to see both sides of a tale that is historically significant but has universally relevant themes, he said.
Elkind, who has directed eight shows during his time at Yale and supported direction in an additional four, said he relished the opportunity to “radically rethink” the influence of female actresses by assigning them traditionally male roles.
“Every time at auditions, the next female actor I couldn’t cast was someone I really wanted to work with,” he said. “There just aren’t enough roles for women.”
Despite cutting the eight-hour play to under two hours, Elkind said he strove to keep the storyline intact. Additionally, Elkind noted that while the play originally had hundreds of roles, his adaptation only has 10 actresses playing all of them.
Elkind’s adaptation was also thematic. He explained that Lady Percy, a minor character in the original play, became a significant character in his rendition.
“Shakespeare’s own internalized misogyny comes out in different ways in the text, so we were interested in preserving the moments where female characters were given a lot of agency,” Elkind said.
Leslie Schneider ’20, who portrays Henry IV in the play, said the cast and crew often discussed how their production could highlight the misogynistic language used by Shakespeare’s characters. She explained that when two men speak derogatorily of women, an audience is likely to dismiss it, but when two women repeat the same lines, it catches the audience’s attention.
Still, Elkind maintained that the play is still unfinished, in the sense that an all-female cast does not alter Shakespeare’s original narrative.
“You can’t change history, but you can choose the way you think about it,” he said.
Henry IV will run from Thursday, Oct. 27 through Saturday, Oct. 29.