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THE GRASS IS GREENER

Director Kate Ross to stage Shakespeare’s comic drama ’Henry IV’ in Prospect Park

for The Brooklyn Paper
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This weekend will be something of a homecoming for Park Slope resident Kate Ross as she directs Boomerang Theatre Company’s production of "Henry IV, Part One" in Prospect Park’s Long Meadow on Saturday and Sunday.

The traveling show opened in Central Park on June 14.

"Henry" is Ross’ first directing gig for Boomerang, a company known for taking its summer productions from park to park, throughout the city. Along the way, the 29-year-old actor-turned-director has learned much. For example, she discovered that even experienced Shakespearean actors like her Falstaff, Ron Sanborn, have to drink plenty of water before donning a fat suit in the blazing city summer heat.

And she learned that machine guns, whatever their virtues on the battlefield, are simply not "dramatically interesting." Although Ross and costumer Sidney J. Shannon decided early on to do the show in contemporary military dress (period clothes are "too expensive, too hot, and get too dirty" for outdoor summer theatre), she quickly discovered that contemporary weaponry was no fun to watch. So it’s all swordplay for the numerous big battle scenes - with a twist courtesy of fight choreographer Andrew Blasenak.

"The actual weapons of the time would have been broadswords, but those are these big honking things," Ross explains. "So what we decided to do is have different characters have different weapons depending upon their personality and their age. We’ve got these excursions where there’s 10 people on stage fighting with eight different weapons. How do two daggers compete against a broadsword? It’s pretty cool."

’Cool’ is a word Ross uses often in describing her production, a testament both to her youthful enthusiasm and her unapologetic affection for Shakespeare.

"These plays, these texts are just so incredible," says Ross, who as an actress has appeared regularly with the well-regarded Actors Shakespeare Company in Hoboken, N.J. "You could dive into them and just work on the text of it for a month. Every time I go back to the page I notice something new."

There’s plenty to notice in "Henry IV," a sweeping adventure story about an England wracked by civil war, featuring the young hero, Prince Hal, and his formidable nemesis, Hotspur. It is a violent, fast-paced and plot-driven play, but one that also includes some of Shakespeare’s most famous comedic sequences - thanks to the presence of the cowardly but good-natured oaf Falstaff.

One reason Ross found herself drawn to "Henry IV, Part One" was that actors and audiences alike are less familiar with the show than with popular favorites like "Romeo & Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

"We actually get to tell a story," she says.

Ross was also compelled by what she saw as a resonance between the war-torn landscape of "Henry IV" and our own troubled times.

"The play starts off with a leader who has come to rule by a sort of illegitimate means, questioned by many, and has been besieged by civil wars and dissension in the ranks," Ross says. "So to distract everybody he wants to wage a Holy War in the Middle East."

But at the end of the day, there’s a simple reason Ross elected to direct this, of all Shakespeare’s work: "Because it’s good it’s got all of those action-adventure staples - the love story, the comedy, the tension, the arch-enemies."

Ross must be doing something right: the Boomerang version of "Part One" is the first in a rush of "Henry’s" on New York stages. On July 15, Liev Schreiber begins a run as Prince Hal’s later incarnation, "Henry V," in Central Park. Lincoln Center is staging a combined "Henry IV, Part One" and "Part Two" in the fall, while closer to home the Brooklyn Academy of Music will host director Richard Maxwell, also doing "Henry IV, Part One" as part of the Next Wave Festival.

Not surprised by the "Henry" fever, Ross notes that these histories "used to be among Shakespeare’s most-produced plays" in this country, and that the tavern scenes between Hal and Falstaff were particular audience favorites.

Ross hopes a new generation can be swayed by productions like hers.

"A lot of people have this preconceived notion that they hate Shakespeare, that it’s just hard, that it’s just boring," she says. "I don’t believe any of those things, of course. But it’s a lot easier to draw someone with scenes like these. They are just rollickingly funny."

After the Prospect Park performances, "Henry" moves on to Washington Market Park in TriBeCa, where Ross and company will encounter a fresh obstacle for their finely tuned fight sequences.

"It has a gazebo in the middle of the stage area," she explains, smiling. "So that’ll be something of a challenge for us, how to incorporate a very quaint little gazebo."


Boomerang Theatre Company’s production of "Henry IV, Part One" will be presented July 12 and July 13 at 2 pm in Prospect Park’s Long Meadow, Third Street at Prospect Park West. All performances are free. For more information, call (212) 501-4069 or visit the Web site at www.boomerangtheatre.org.

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