photographs by Barry Wisdom /
Sacramento residents seem as hungry for all things zombie, as zombies are for delectable “brain food.”
One of the latest additions to the Slow Food menu of zombie delights is Big Idea Theatre’s “The Life and Undead of King Henry V,” Brian Harrower’s post-apocalyptic adaptation of Shakespeare’s historical works, combining elements of “Richard II,” “King Henry IV” (Parts I and II), and “King Henry V.”
Running July 6-28, 2012, at the company’s Del Paso Boulevard playhouse, “The Life and Undead of King Henry V” is an action-packed exercise in iambic pentameter terror that surprises in its easy, seamless transition from traditional heroic drama to “Omega Man” macabre.
“At the end of ‘King Henry IV,’ King Henry is fighting against the French,” said Big Idea Theatre spokeswoman Shannon Mahoney. “Our artistic director Brian Harrower adapted it so Henry is not fighting the French, but an army of zombies.”
Mahoney said even regular theatergoers tend to get nervous when “Shakespeare” is mentioned (“They think Shakespeare is hard.”). More than likely it’s just because of limited exposure to the Bard, she noted, such as a quick high-school read of “Romeo and Juliet” and a screening of “West Side Story.”
“With ‘Henry,’ we’re taking one of Shakespeare’s history plays and combining it with zombies,” Mahoney said. “We’re making it accessible to everyman.”
Shakespeare has always been an important component of Big Idea’s repertoire, said Mahoney, who ticked off a list of past jewels in the company’s crown: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; “Richard III”; “Much Ado About Nothing”; “Twelfth Night.”
“We’re very excited about Shakespeare in general.”
A little more than a year ago, when Harrower (since named artistic director) proposed his unconventional adaptation to his fellow company members, it wasn’t met with skepticism, but was warmly embraced.
“We felt it was an easy, easy marriage,” said Mahoney. “It didn’t seem like the language was fighting the concept.”
“Of the 40-plus shows submitted by company members, it was among the Top 8,” Mahoney said. “We all loved it. It’s smart theater.”
Mahoney explained that in the spirit of democracy and consensus, each Big Idea Theatre company member is asked to submit three plays a year (including one royalty-free title) that will be considered for the following season’s schedule.
“No submission can go on stage without all of our support,” said Mahoney. “It guarantees we’re all excited about it.”
“Excited” would be an understatement. “We’re over the moon about it,” she said.
Harrower, a longtime member of the Big Idea company, said his inspiration for replacing the French with zombies came from Shakespeare’s own folio.
“The language just lends itself to it,” said Harrower, who also serves as the production’s director. “There’s a passage in ‘Henry V’: ‘Mark then abounding valour in our English, that being dead, like to the bullet’s grazing, break out into a second course of mischief, killing in relapse of mortality.’ Shakespeare’s histories are riddled with zombie imagery.”
Mahoney is confident audience members will be as fond of “The Life and Undead of Henry V” as the Big Idea company, and its cast – a lauded group distinguished by a number of Elly Award winners. Among the players are Joseph Cady, David Fox, James Gilbreath, Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly, Ally Krumm, Leo McElroy, Janelle Neczypor, Ryan Snyder, Mark Urquhart, Denver Vaughn, and such Big Idea company members as Justin Muñoz, Gregory Smith, and Liz Tachella-Bowman. Principal zombies are Robyn Colburn, Jaina Frank, Aaron Hitchcock and John Young.
“I think they’re going to laugh, I think they’re going to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s not just hoity-toity for the super educated. It’s an everyman show.”
What makes the show so accessible goes beyond the George Romero-influenced storyline, but can be seen and touched thanks to the Big Idea creative team.
“It’s scary, too,” Mahoney said. “We worked really hard in creating that atmosphere. It’s really an all-encompassing piece dependent on lighting, sound, language, costumes, makeup – everything. It’s the whole package. It can be incredibly challenging.
“At Big Idea, we love that.”
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The Big Idea Theatre production of “The Life and Undead of King Henry V” by William Shakespeare (adapted by Brian Harrower)
WHEN: July 6-28, 2012, with performances on July 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 (8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays)
WHERE: Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento, Calif.
HOW MUCH: $15 general admission; $13 SARTA members, students and seniors; $10 “Thrifty Thursday” (July 12, 19, 26 only)
FOR MORE INFO: (916) 960-3036 (box office); www.bigideatheatre.com