Shakespeare inspires awe in many actors and students, and Henry V is no different. Aaron Hess '04 decided to tackle the play about kings and wars for his senior honors project in English and theater, calling Shakespeare "a demanding playwright [who] has to be taken seriously."

Henry V is the story of a young king who wages a war to distract the public, beginning a campaign against France to occupy different English factions with foreign policy. Shakespeare considered Henry a hero because he was constantly in touch with what happens during the war, eventually winning battles and preserving stability in England.

Sam Cohan '05 plays the lead role, with Natalie Handel '04 as the comical Monsigneur le Fer, Robin Smith '05 as the princess Katherine, and Alex Lamb '07 as the Chorus.

For a few of the actors, Henry V is their first foray into Shakespeare, and anything Shakespearean complicates things. "Unlike English actors, American actors tend to first approach Shakespeare with great hesitancy," Cohan said. "There's this unfortunate feeling that many actors have that Shakespeare, somehow, is not ours." Cohan also had this attitude until he spent last fall with the National Theater Institute in Connecticut, where he traveled to Stratford, worked with actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and spent two months in intense training with former RSC actor Michael Cadman.

Through these experiences, Cohan found that Shakespeare was not as tricky as many believed. "Shakespeare's characters aren't buried in subtext. Their thoughts and feelings are all there on the surface. If a character says he's sad, he's sad," he said. "If a character says he'll burn your village down, he most likely means it."

Even if Shakespeare does have little subtext, Hess found several challenges directing Henry V, especially in the amount of roles required for the play. The cast numbers 12, a large amount for a Bowdoin play, yet there are over 40 parts in Henry V.

"I knew from experience that it would be difficult to get a cast of more than 13 or 14 together without running into serious scheduling problems," said Hess. "Most of the actors play several parts in the show."

Handel found this part of the show entertaining. "As you switch characters, you transition to a completely different mindset-from an English soldier to a French noble-often very quickly," she said.

Also, choreographing certain scenes in the show posed problems. Fight scenes are often difficult to stage, and having a smaller cast made it more of an experiment. "Choreographing any stage combat takes a lot of time, and usually a lot of training," Hess said. "We had to make do with what training we had, and be very careful to build fights that were convincing."

The hard work and preparation results in a lot of fun for the cast and crew. "The cast that Aaron assembled truly is an excellent group of actors. They've made my job easier and their energy is amazing," Cohan said. "I have never had this much fun working on a play at Bowdoin and I hope the audience sees how much we're enjoying ourselves onstage."

Handel echoed his outlook, praising Hess's directing abilities: "He takes his cast and his work seriously enough that we improve, but keeps it in perspective enough that we all enjoy the play as a learning experience."

To see Henry V, get free tickets from the Smith Union Info Desk for for tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.