October 25, 2023

Native Scholars Present Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV, Part 1’

Henry IV, Part 1 opens November 3. Directed by Native Scholar-Artist in Residence Waylon Lenk BA ’08, the production features a modern translation by Native playwright Yvette Nolan, which aims to ease viewers into the powerful historical tale.

Theatre cast at a rehearsal, holding scripts on stage. Shakespeare scholar and Native Scholar-Artist in Residence Waylon Lenk BA ’08 directs the cast of Henry IV, Part 1 during a rehearsal.
Credit: Suhail Akram BA ’24

by David Oehler BA ʼ14

This fall, the Lewis & Clark College theatre department presents Yvette Nolan’s translation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 on the main stage.

Directed by Shakespeare scholar Waylon Lenk BA ’08 as part of the inaugural Native Scholar-Artist in Residence program, the translation seeks to remove obstacles to audience enjoyment of Shakespeare. It updates antiquated language to more modern English, while retaining the meaning, complexity, and ambiguity of the play’s depictions of historical figures.

“I don’t think anybody listening to Shakespeare understands it 100 percent of the time. By the time you figure out what you just heard, a whole bunch of new stuff has happened,” says Lenk. However, this isn’t a reimagining of the play. “There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be translated, because it still works for our modern ears. And there’s some stuff that we think Shakespeare actually meant to be opaque.”

Burlap background with spraypainted crown, dragon, cross, and shield above details of play. With a cast and crew of 16 Lewis & Clark students, Henry IV, Part 1 tells the story of Prince Hal (Leïla Kreitmann BA ’27), the son of the recently crowned King Henry IV (Brodie Joseph BA ’26). As his father busies himself with state and warcraft, Hal lounges in a tavern, avoiding his responsibilities in the face of a brewing rebellion.

Despite the heroic connotations, Lenk says this is meant to be a play about masculinity and its relationship to violence. “I don’t think we should do war plays that valorize violence. I think if we’re going to do violence on stage, it has to make the audience uncomfortable. The idea is that there’s this homogenous group of men that are doing war, who don’t know how to relate to themselves, to their communities, or their land in a healthy way.”

“I loved, or thought I loved, Hal,” says translator and playwright Yvette Nolan about what she learned during this process. “I thought this was a play about how we become leaders … about the making of a king, which it kind of is, but it is not necessarily the kind of king I would want. Hal is manipulative and cruel.”

While this version of Henry IV, Part 1 contains no alterations from the source in terms of plot and structure, the Native identities of the playwright and director are always present and “bleed into our approach to the text,” says Lenk.

“Yvette brings a sensibility that is present in much of her art regarding masculinity and violence, some of which she has explored in relation to Indigenous communities,” says Lenk.

Students rehearsing on stage. With a cast and crew of 16 Lewis & Clark students, Henry IV, Part 1 tells the story of Prince Hal, the son of the recently crowned King Henry IV.
Credit: Suhail Akram BA ’24
Although the play addresses weighty themes, audiences should expect some levity to offset the seriousness. “We’ve got an amazing movement director, Claire Aldridge, to help us deliver the violence but also the silly clownery,” says Lenk.

“When it is really working, the audience forgets that it is a translation. They think it is the original Shakespeare, and he is just that clear,” says Nolan. “They don’t get thrown out of the play by either archaic or contemporary language—they just get swept away by the story being told clearly.”

Henry IV, Part 1 will run November 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m., November 5 at 2 p.m., and November 9, 10, and 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online or in person at the box office.

Theatre L&C Main Stage