We’ve been huge fans of Three Day Hangover‘s boozy adaptations of Shakespearean classics, with a little Chekhov thrown in the mix, ever since The Hamlet Project debuted two years ago. Seriously… we wrote them a love letter. This is a theater company that insures an extraordinarily fun night while modernizing and honoring the play text with great joy and success than your average Shakespeare production. Now they’re closing off the 2014-15 season with Hank V, their first history play.
Adapted by Lori Wolter Hudson and Beth Gardiner, Hank V reworks Henry V using only two characters: Henry–or Hank (Three Day Hangover co-founder David Hudson)– and Falstaff (Christopher Ryan Grant), possibly the most famous comedic character in literary history. Henry V is the final play in a tetralogy that begins with the usurpation of Richard II at the hands of Henry IV, our Henry’s father. Henry V is an unlikely king (he’s a drunk and fun-loving youth in the middle plays) but ends the saga as one of the most heroic and beloved monarchs in English history. If you haven’t read a lick of Shakespeare, never fear! Hank and Falstaff provide the sparknotes version to any information you might need to know.
After a modern verse prologue which depicts Falstaff and Henry’s rowdy, college-bro friendship, we receive word that Henry’s father has passed, and in true meta form, Falstaff and Henry decide to act out Henry V. Falstaff doesn’t actually appear in Henry V; he’s dead by Act II, betrayed by the loss of Henry’s friendship as the young king assumes his royal duty. But here in Hank V, Falstaff serves the purpose of not only playing all the minor characters but also guiding Henry through his radically new role as king and commander.
As per Three Day Hangover’s approach, the play takes on a boozy transformation. The Stumble Inn (the Upper East Side bar serves as our “kingdom for a stage.” Audience participators receive free shots as their death sentence and a map of England and France reflects conquered cities with coordinating solo cups. There’s beer pong pre-show that is excellent preparation for the final St. Crispin’s Day Battle, a massive beer pong free-for-all. There’s also plenty of humor to go around: Falstaff and Hank improvise their way through costumes and props to hilarious effect. The camaraderie (maybe even chemistry in the Katherine scenes?) between Grant and Hudson makes for laugh-a-minute momentum and perfectly embodies the relationship between two old friends.
The thing is, none of this shtick ever feels forced. These productions are so deft at incorporating drinking games, pop culture, and comedy into the original text. They move fluidly from modern lingo into Shakespearean verse with hardly a beat, and then back into a dance party with your favorite 80’s pop song. Three Day Hangover shows just how much of a living, breathing text this classic play can be, and then go about rejuvenating them with their special brand of (alcoholic) elixir.
And if it’s not clear how much of a blast we had at Hank V, we’ve saved our happiest report for last. Including Falstaff into Henry V’s journey as new king is one of the most brilliant adaptive measures ever. Shakespeare’s the man and all, but the history plays can be a bit stodgy at times. The battle preparations and political schemes and war scenes can overrun a play like Henry V, causing it to skimp on the characters and relationships. What Three Day Hangover have effectively done is take one of the greatest literary friendships of all time and extend it into the most trying and difficult time of Henry’s life. It makes his transition into king all the more poignant and so much more human. In Henry V, we are introduced to Henry as an already coronated king and a budding leader. In Hank V, we are still drinking up with the young prince who now has an entire country to rule over and a war to win. Falstaff is the stabilizing force in Hank’s life, and watching them pass through Hank’s trials together, with Falstaff inevitably fading out of them, after all the drinking and debauchery, makes for such wistful and intimate moments.
Three Day Hangover’s Hank V plays at The Stumble Inn through March 1. Tickets Here. Do it.