Actor Michael John Casey currently stars in Folger’s current production of Henry V, showing tremendous range and versatility playing a multitude of roles, including Nym, Westmoreland, and Burgundy. Michael has appeared all over the DC theater landscape, including performances at Ford’s Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Imagination Stage, The Kennedy Center, among others. In addition, he has worked in film and television. In our current blog series highlighting the extraordinary cast of the very successful Henry V, Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions for us and our Production Diary readers. Here’s what he had to say:
Folger: What specifically draws you to the play Henry V? What is unique and special about this particular play?
MJC: The thing enjoy most is about this play is the social complexity rooted in the humanity of its characters. From the travails of the “lower” class (Pistol, Bardolph, Nym & the Boy) to the yearning for clarity and right of the king to the socio-political commentary of the disparate factions of the British Empire, this play cuts a path through that world with characters trying to find their way. Some make it, some don’t. That struggle (although, not all on the same scale) is common to us all.
Folger: The cast does a lot of the scene changes using the moveable pikes. Can you tell us about what the process of choreographing all of the changes was like?
MJC: At the beginning it seemed a mess. It didn’t make sense to some of us. We seemed to get the assignments based on who was free and where we were in relation to a pike that needing moving. And it changed quite a bit. With the reassignments, the colored markings, and the timing of the moves, it didn’t feel organic, but cripplingly mechanical…until just after the invited dress. Then the assignments were set and it started to take shape. I think in the traitor scene, it really clicked. As the pikes moved to suggest the movement of a docked ship and the shift out of that scene, the pikes started to make the seemingly “unworthy scaffold” into a mobius, shifting and bending from one shape and locale to another. These shifts not only started to identify the locale, but comment on the emotional and physical events happening. I love the fact that we are seen as well. The lights also aid in the framing of this effect. As one of the “flat and unraised spirits,” there is a sense of purpose to telling the story scenographically that, as an actor, is very satisfying. We become part of the set…maybe we haunt it a bit.
Folger: Do you have a favorite moment that takes place on stage in Henry V?
MJC: The wordless moments shared with the other soldiers during the St. Crispin’s Day speech. The moment that we realize that we are about to become brothers for standing and fighting alongside each other, whether we survive or not. The speech is great writing and Zach [Appelman] is great in the role, but I think those exchanges, those mini-revelations are it.
Folger: Share with us your experience of working at the Folger.
MJC: This is the second show I have done at the Folger. The first was Twelfth Night in 2003. Both experiences shared the same sense of fun and purpose in rehearsals and joy of performing, albeit with different narratives.
Folger: What’s your favorite Shakespeare play – and why?
MJC: Tough one….Louis Butelli recently answered this question at a high school audience talk-back by saying that his favorite was Henry V as this was the one he was currently knee deep in. I have to agree. There is a certain amount of love one grows to have for a show when working on it, so it is kind of a hard question to answer. That aside, I have always loved Henry V of all the histories, Twelfth Night of the comedies and Othello of the tragedies. If I had to pick, I think I’d say Twelfth Night.
Folger: What would you like people to take away from this performance as they leave the theater?
MJC: That with all the pomp and “general ceremony” of attending the theater, that these utterly human and relatable characters struggled together and loved, lied, fought, and died for their beliefs and for each other. That this story offered by the Chorus, is at once epic and intimate, populist and personal.
Folger: We hear that you are a new dad – congratulations! What would you tell her if she wanted to be a stage actor?
MJC: Thanks! What would I tell her? Watch and listen. Some of the greatest learning experiences I have had were in rehearsals, listening to a director or just watching another actor approach a scene. “Watch and listen.”
We would like to extend a hearty, “Thank you” to Michael John Casey for answering a few questions for us. This is the final weekend to catch Michael and his fellow cast members in Henry V. The production must close this Sunday, March 10.