This year, Freehold’s Engaged Theatre program draws from three of William Shakespeare’s history plays, adds a touch of a comedy, and turns the mash-up script into a fast-paced examination of war, honor, and a shattered relationship between a father and a son.
“The Flower of England’s Face: William Shakespeare’s Henry IV” takes its script from the two “Henry IV” plays, “Richard II” and a bit of “Merry Wives of Windsor.”
“It streamlines the whole story of what happened to Prince Hal,” said Andrew McGinn, who plays Falstaff, the Prince’s roistering lower class friend. McGinn’s wife Christine Marie Brown is one of several women playing a role normally cast as man, Prince Hal’s military rival Hotspur. She also plays one of the Eastcheap wenches, Doll Tearsheet.
Another married couple in the cast, Sarah Brooke and Tony Pasqualini, joined McGinn and Brown to discuss the production as well as the joys of spending a summer touring with your spouse and acting in Seattle.
“Over the years, Sarah and I have probably done 30 plays together,” said Pasqualini, one of the original founders of Freehold in 1991. The couple decided to leave Seattle for Los Angeles fifteen years ago. These days, Pasqualini regularly appears as a guest character on TV series as well as writing award-winning plays, while Brooke performs on stage and developed her own cabaret shows.
Seattle theatergoers also will remember Brooke from her work at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, and Book-It, among others in the 1990s. “One thing that I’ve noticed coming back to Seattle this summer is the number of groups who are gone,” Brooke said. “When we started out, there was Empty Space, The Group Theatre, and Intiman (as a fulltime rep house) as well as ACT and Seattle Rep. You could just call the Rep for an audition.”
“I can’t imagine that,” interjected Brown, who moved to Seattle with McGinn in 2010.
“It’s the reality now that most of the actors in Seattle have a semi-permanent other job,” said McGinn, who recently completed his MFA at University of Washington.
“That’s true in Los Angeles too,” said Brooke. “Certainly for stage actors. Most of the theater work is for theaters with less than 90 seats,” meaning that the work falls outside the union’s rules for payment.
“Yeah, so the LA stage actors need something else, such as television, for their day job,” said Pasqualini.
But all four agree that there is nothing like spending a summer immersed in Shakespeare. Not only is the poetry stirring, but the characters struggle with real-life issues against a bigger backdrop of medieval politics and warfare.
“As the father of a grown son, I understand King Henry’s conflict with Hal,” said Pasqualini about his role. “Nothing cuts deeper than thinking that your son is screwing up.”
“Having women playing the nobles of Henry’s court or roles like Hotspur make it more relatable to today’s audience,” said Brooke, who plays the Earl of Westmorelund as well as the bawdy Mistress Quickly. “Also, you see the whole arc of the characters’ stories, rather than having them broken up through several plays. You appreciate the differences between the concerns of the court and the Eastcheap crowd like Falstaff and his cronies.”
“What I love about Falstaff is that he lives his life full out,” said McGinn. His character was such an audience favorite that Shakespeare rescued the fat man from the history plays to romp in Windsor forest. “Falstaff and Prince Hal have this amazing, carefree life together, a willful indifference to the system, but there comes this point where he has to go to war or face imprisonment. I’m interested to see the reaction at Lewis McChord to his speech about honor, when he says ‘Can honor set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No.’”
Since 2003, Freehold has toured its classic productions to non-traditional sites. This year the tour for “The Flower of England’s Face” goes to Washington Corrections Center for Women, Monroe Correctional Complex, Harborview Medical Center, Echo Glen Children’s Center and Joint Base/Lewis McChord.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said Brown. “The audiences are so involved. They usually don’t know anything about these plays or how things will turn out. They just experience the relationships as they unfold.”
“I remember playing Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and reaching that moment when he’s told to renounce his religion for his crimes. The reaction (at the men’s prison) was visceral. One man told me not to do it,” Pasqualini recalled. “In those performances, you can’t get away with those tricks that all actors know. You have to be absolutely truthful.”
A preview performance of “The Flower of England’s Face: William Shakespeare’s Henry IV” plays outside tonight (June 30) at 6:30 p.m. in Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island. Additional shows take place at University of Washington's Glen Hughes Penthouse Theatre, NE 45th St and 17th Ave. NE. The UW performances will be at 8 p.m. on July 12 to 19 (no show on July 15) and at 4:00 p.m. on July 13 and July 20. More information can be found at Freehold’s website.