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.
Actor can go home again
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.