Shakespeare’s History Plays in Rep, the Once in a Generation Event is a Triumph at the Guthrie

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*Disclaimer: On March 28th I suffered a rupture in my right bicep muscle, which has left me without the use of my right arm. I will endeavor to continue seeing and reviewing shows however the reality is that the reviews will need to be significantly shorter. For now I will attempt to provide you, faithful readers, with a few sentences that will make clear whether a show is worth your time and money. My apologies to all of the artists in front of the curtain as well as behind whose work I may not be able to comment on. Hopefully this will be a short-term accommodation, I will do everything in my power to get back to writing full reviews as soon as is humanly possible.

As daunting as it may seem, it is, in reality, a supremely satisfying and exhilarating experience

The above disclaimer, which has began each review since my injury, has never felt more like a curse than a blessing then it does for this review. Of all the shows I have covered since beginning The Stages of MN in 2019 this historic three play event deserves an epic review. But, as Shakespeare himself wrote “brevity is the soul of wit”, pray that it be so. And so with rough and all unable-pen our blogger shall pursue a review. 

I count myself very fortunate to have been among the few, the happy few attending the opening day marathon of the Guthrie Theater’s History plays comprised of Richard IIHenry IV, and Henry V. I know that most people are frightened off at the thought of 13 hours at a theater seeing three Shakespeare plays. But, the experience greatly outweighs and gives proof the falsehood of imagined discomfort. For “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” and so, think not on it, as a non-runner thinks of a marathon, as something to be endured. But rather embrace it as the once in a lifetime privilege and rest assured that like the long distance runner the adrenaline and the excitement and the sense of accomplishment will carry the day. Never have 13 hours passed so quickly or the air in the theater filled with such electricity and excitement. There is one additional marathon day scheduled for Saturday May 18th I urge anyone with an interest in Shakespeare to take advantage of this rare opportunity. As daunting as it may seem, it is, in reality, a supremely satisfying and exhilarating experience. If the date does not work for you I urge you to see all three plays in order whether that be one a week or over the course of a weekend. But one of the unique thrills of seeing these three plays in rep, is watching the actors complete character arcs over multiple plays and seeing the full scope of this story, these histories, play out upon the stage. 

One of the aspects of seeing all three plays in one day is the way in which you become aware of the complexity involved in the undertaking of such a feat.

The plots of the plays are filled with political intrigue, Civil Wars, loyalties and betrayals, they tell of villains, Kings, knaves and heroes. The Guthrie’s marketing very succinctly distills the plays to their essence Richard II a king becomes a man, Henry IV a man becomes a King, Henry V a king becomes a hero. While that touches on but one key theme of each play it also alludes to the arc that carries through all three, for together they tell of the consecutive reign of three English Monarchs. Each play runs over two and a half hours including the intermission they are histories so we expect drama and intrigue they tell of wars and battles and there is combat and even a few brief moments of romance. For those unfamiliar with the plays, what might surprise is the amount of humor that can be found in each play. Which goes a long way towards converting the plays fascinating historical dramas into well-rounded entertainments. Let us speak no more of plots but, before moving on to the individual plays, a few thoughts on the entire undertaking. One of the aspects of seeing all three plays in one day is the way in which you become aware of the complexity involved in the undertaking of such a feat. We see why we call this a once in a generation event. The intricacies of the details from lighting, costuming, wigs, props, makeup, sound cues, and set designs is mind boggling. The actors learning three plays worth of dialogue, blocking, stage combat, some playing as many as 8 characters across the trilogy. We marvel on the day of the stamina of the cast and crew to run all three in a single day. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg and almost downplays the dedication, talent, and hard work that was needed over years to plan, over months to stage, and over weeks to perform often twice in the day. Picture here a well-deserved standing ovation for Stage Managers Tree O’Halloran and Karl Alphonso, Assistant Stage Managers Jason Clusman and Olivia Louise Tree Plath, Lighting Designer Heather Gilbert, Sound Designer Mikaal Sulaiman, and Composer Jack Herrick. 

Truth be told I had never seen any of these plays produced on stage, my exposure to Richard II was Limited to episode 1 of the series The Hollow Crown. The role of King Richard II is played by local favorite Tyler Michaels King who is, as always, brilliant in the role. His King is a man who has come to believe all that his sycophant hangers on tell him, and has completely bought in to the concept of his divine appointment to the throne. Vain and spoilt at the beginning his transformation from divine King to a mortal man, is where Michaels King finds nuance and humanity. David Andrew MacDonald seen recently at the Guthrie in Dial M for Murder is a standout in this play as the Duke of York. Also, Jasmine Bracey as his wife, The Duchess of York makes quite an impression in her short scene towards the end of the play. Begging the newly crowned Henry IV to pardon her son, it’s played with feeling, but also great humor. This play gives us our first look of the day at the set designed by Jan Chambers which consists of a throne room that rotates on a turntable the backside of which can stand in for various locations throughout the three plays. Around the turntable is a rotating donut that set pieces can be placed and rotated from backstage. Both of these rotating floors mechanisms, along with the trap door and elevator platform allow for quick and fluid transitions between scenes. On either side of the stage are large tower like structures on which actors can stand and perform, again allowing us to focus on one area while transitions are happening elsewhere. It’s a marvelous design that allows for the many scene, location, and environmental changes that need to occur over the course of three full length plays.


 Henry IV is condensed from Henry IV part 1 and 2 into one play, this is the play that resulted in the most cuts for obvious reasons. My exposure to Henry IV has been multiple viewings of Orson Welles film The Chimes at Midnight which also draws from all four of these plays as well as The Merry Wives of Windsor as well as other texts, as well as episodes 2 and 3 of the series The Hollow Crown. William Sturdivant who had played Henry Bolingbroke who was crowned King at the end of Richard II continues as that character. The strange thing about Henry IV is that it’s almost more Prince Hal played by Daniel Jose Molina and Falstaff played by Jimmy Kieffer’s play. Studivant, still gets to shine over the course of Richard II and Henry IV, perhaps getting the best opportunity to show a characters change over a longer. Of time playing the Young Henry in Richard II and an older near the end of life King Henry IV. He does a nice job of aging Henry aided by well-designed wig, makeup and costuming by Trevor Bowen. It’s hard for me to shake off Welles’ portrayal of Falstaff but Kieffer does good work with the iconic role portraying him a little more outwardly calculating, less ludicrous and less sympathetic. Making Prince Hal turning away from him feel more deserved and less cruel which I think adds to the realism. Molina for his part while the King and Henry V gets to establish his character here as Prince Hal in his wilder youthful days. With this play surprisingly more than Henry V we must note the wonderful stage combat by Fight Director and Captain U. Jonathan Toppo.


Henry V is a work I’ve had the most exposure to not only The Hollow Crown episode 4 but the Kenneth Branagh film is one of my favorite films, I’ve seen all or part of it at least 20 times. Display belongs to Daniel Jose Molina his portrayal of King Harry genuinely conveys the characters maturity and understanding of the awesome responsibility of being the King. Molina still finds places to inject humor into the line readings sometimes in surprising places but they always work. All three plays are fantastic and the direction by Joseph Haj is consistently intelligent and unifying. There was one aspect of this particular play that struck me as an odd choice by Haj and costume designer Trevor Bowen. The costumes of the French Court have a distinctly modern high fashion look that does not mesh with the look of the costumes of every other character in all three plays. It does allow for a lot of added humor around the French Royal Court particularly the role of the Dauphin, played by Dustin Bronson. On its own Bronson and his fellow actors take on the characters of the French Court in army is hilarious. But within the body of the three plays it’s the one piece that feels out of place. I also expected there to be a fair amount of stage combat in Henry V, and was surprised to find very little. That says it works without the stage combat but after seeing how well it was handled in the previous play one couldn’t help but want for more.

There are 26 actors who appear on stage, four of which have non-speaking roles as attendance officers londoners and soldiers. Of the 22 with speaking roles there isn’t a bad performance and too many to single out individually but here are the names of just a few of those not already mentioned who created very memorable moments and characters across multiple plays; John Catron, Charity Jones, Melissa Maxwell, Lanise Antoine Shelley, and Eric Sharp most of whom local audiences will recognize. I do also want to give a shout out to one of my favorite up and coming performers Em Rosenberg who is making their speaking role debut at the Guthrie playing eight roles. All of them small, to be sure, but it’s so thrilling to see someone whose talent has caught your eye getting to take this step and have this experience. They get to play a lot of different characters with not a lot to do but keep your eye on Rosenberg, I think at some point in the future they are someone we will see as the lead in Guthrie Productions.

Shakespeare’s history plays run through May 25th at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For more information and to purchase tickets including how to save money on three show packages or to attend the final Marathon Day on May 18th go to . We are also planning a Twin Cities Theater Bloggers post show event on April 27th following the Richard IImatinee for 20% discount on tickets to that performance use the code TCBLOG or click on the link

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Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content