The Folger Theatre production of “Henry V” is intended to be very modern, in every way but one.
Even though the hot thing to do with Shakespeare as of late is to uproot his tales from their Elizabethan roots and plant them someplace fresh — the Wild West! Cuba in the 1930s! Hollywood! — Folger’s “Henry V” is staying put in 1415, “where it’s meant to be,” said Zach Appelman, who plays Henry.
Despite the centuries-old setting, “I keep being surprised by how modern the play is, without us having to modernize it at all,” Appelman said. “How modern [and] relevant and alive it feels.”
The show was slated for this slot in the Folger schedule so it could play on Capitol Hill with the inauguration in the background, director Robert Richmond said.
Henry “is dealing with having to unify a nation under one sovereign king. And there are, more than in any other play, many different factions inside what is being called ‘English.’ . . . One’s identity, national and personal, somehow have to be used and understood, and one has to go forward and embrace the differences between the people rather than the contradictions. I feel that’s a good message for us right now, as we stand here, before going forward with the inauguration.”
The cast is “a mix of people from all over,” said Richmond, though it’s led by the American Appelman. “We are performing in a way that definitely has this influence by being American and being in Washington, D.C. It’s unbelievably resonant in terms of its political stance.”
Henry “is struggling to adhere to his own ethical and moral principles while dealing with the needs of ruling a kingdom,” Appelman said. “That’s what’s fascinating me the most: What happens to a man of principle when his principles don’t go along with what he actually needs to do to succeed?”
Parallels abound! And yet. “You have to be careful,” Appelman said. “None of us are trying to make the play a specific message that is about a direct parallel to what’s going on in the world today. That would be trying to make the story something that it’s not. We are interested in what it says about the challenges of leadership and the cost of leadership. And these issues of war are very, very resonant with people right now, without drawing specific parallels like, ‘Henry is Obama.’ ”
Jan. 22 to March 3, 201 East Capitol St. SE, 202-544-7077, folger.edu.
James Gardiner, who plays both Kanga and Eeyore in Adventure Theatre MTC’s upcoming production of “Winnie the Pooh,” is returning to his childhood stamping grounds: Both he and his twin, Matthew, started taking classes there when they were 7 years old.
“It felt like a weird homecoming, in a way,” said Gardiner, 28, who has since performed at the Kennedy Center, Olney Theatre Center, Studio Theatre, Signature Theatre and other stages around the D.C. area. The first week of rehearsals for “Winnie the Pooh” was held in the same space where Gardiner and his brother took dance classes in high school. He played Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man” and Al in “A Chorus Line,” and performed at the annual fundraising galas, once in a rendition of the “Damn Yankees” seduction anthem “Whatever Lola Wants,” in which he and Matthew appeared from opposite sides of the stage throughout the song and only revealed that they were, in fact, two separate people, at the very end.
When the brothers were in high school, they joined the teen ensemble Young Americans of Washington.
Wait. The teen ensemble was called “Young Americans of Washington”? Seriously? It sounds like an extra-nerdy debate club.
“They found out later that there was a young Republicans group with that name,” Gardiner said.
That’s . . . not at all surprising.
“Now they’re the Singular Sensations,” he said. Change has come to America!
In “Winnie the Pooh,” Gardiner spends half the show as Eeyore, the original Debbie Downer, and the other half as Kanga, the maternal kangaroo.
“Eeyore is such a hard role,” said Gardiner. He “is so slow in his speech patterns, and he’s very sad all the time. It sort of takes the energy out of a lot of scenes. So I’m trying to find an interesting balance between bringing the character to life and keeping the show moving forward.”
As for the other character, well, “I basically get to be a kangaroo in drag.”
Jan. 19 to Feb. 24, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, 301-634-2270,
The last hurrah for the H Street Playhouse is an official farewell celebration at the theater this Saturday. There will be drinking, snacking and dancing to the live performance of the Jaynettes, a doo-wop group that includes Adele Robey, the former owner of H Street Playhouse and chief executive of Anacostia Playhouse, and her daughter Julia Robey Christian, who was the managing director of H Street Playhouse and will be the chief operations officer of the Anacostia Playhouse. Derecho, a rock cover band (which includes Christian) will provide entertainment, as well.
“It’s meant to be something that will appeal to all of the people that this place has touched,” Christian said. All are welcome at the open house bash, but RSVPs are required.
Construction at the Anacostia Playhouse, where Robey and Christian will spearhead their new theater venture at 2020 Shannon Pl., is progressing according to schedule; they hope to open for business in the spring. As excited as they are for the big move across the river, the goodbye to H Street is a bittersweet one. Robey announced the relocation in July, explaining that escalating rent had forced her to leave the Northeast neighborhood the H Street theater had been a crucial part of reviving.
“We were moving the risers into configuration [at H Street] the other night,” Christian said. “And I just stopped what I was doing, looked around and realized: This is the last time we’re doing this, in this building, ever again.”
Saturday at 7 p.m., 1365 H St. NE, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.