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Theater Group Takes on Shakespeare's 'Henry IV' with Gender-Bending Cast

 Smith Street Stage will perform Henry IV in Carroll Park this summer.
Shakespeare in Carroll Park
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CARROLL GARDENS — When King Henry IV takes the stage for “Shakespeare in Carroll Park” this summer, he might look a little different than theater-goers imagined.

That’s because Smith Street Stage, the theater group that presents the annual performance, is discarding convention for a gender-bending interpretation of Shakespeare’s historical plays.

The gender-neutral casting for “Henry IV, Part One and Part Two” means that men and women have been picked for roles that don’t always conform to the character’s scripted sex. The idea came from the play’s director, Joby Earle, explained Beth Ann Hopkins, the group’s artistic director.

In producing “Shakespeare in Carroll Park” since 2010, Hopkins found that The Bard’s plays had “so many wonderful roles for men” but “limited roles for women,” she said.

“So I was looking for a way in,” she said.

Smith Street Stage previously set aside gender restrictions in its 2013 performance of “Julius Caesar,” in which an actress played a female version of the Roman general.

Both parts of “Henry IV” will feature eight main actors and actresses, who will take on multiple male and female roles.

Hopkins, for example, will play four different characters, including Lady Percy and Douglas.

Women will perform two of the plays’ leading male roles — Henry IV and his son Henry, known in the play as Prince Hal.

Both parts of “Henry IV” will be performed in repertory on alternate evenings. Some dates are scheduled for only “Part One” or “Part Two.” (A full schedule is listed below).  

A preview will take place on June 30 and the performances will officially begin on July 2.

This year’s staging of “Shakespeare in Carroll Park” will be “a bigger setup than we’ve ever had before,” Hopkins said, with 70 chairs for audience members and lighting that will allow the play to start at 8 p.m. on some evenings. 

“We’re taking a lot of risks here,” Hopkins said. “But we were ready.”

The performance is free and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. People are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets.

Henry IV Performance Schedule:

Part One: June 30, July 8, 10 and 16 at 8 p.m.

Part Two: July 1, 9, 15 and 17 at 8 p.m.

Part One and Part Two, back-to-back:

July 2, 11, 12, 18 and 19

Part One at 6:30 p.m.

Part Two at 8 p.m.

To contact Smith Street Stage for more information, email smithstreetstage@gmail.com.