PRC’s Joseph Haj and Mike Donahue Will Co-direct “The Making of a King: ‘Henry IV’ and ‘Henry V'”

PlayMakers Repertory Company's ambitious Shakespearean epic "The Making of a King: 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V'" will run from Jan. 28th to March 4th in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill
PlayMakers Repertory Company's ambitious Shakespearean epic "The Making of a King: 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V'" will run from Jan. 28th to March 4th in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill

PlayMakers Repertory Company's ambitious Shakespearean epic "The Making of a King: 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V'" will run  from Jan. 28th to March 4th in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill
PlayMakers Repertory Company's ambitious Shakespearean epic "The Making of a King: 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V'" will run from Jan. 28th to March 4th in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill

PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joseph Haj and freelance director Mike Donahue, based in New York City, will co-direct an ambitious epic Shakespearean production called The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V — two historical dramas performed in rotating repertory — on Jan. 28 and 29; Jan. 31-Feb. 5; Feb. 7-12, 14-19, and 21-26; and Feb. 28-March 4 on the thrust stage of the 500-seat Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

The Making of a King combines two 16th-century history plays penned by English playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) — Henry IV, Part One, first presented no later than 1597, and Henry IV, Part Two, first produced between 1596 and 1599 — into a single play, simply entitled Henry IV; and alternates Henry IV with Shakespeare’s Henry V, which was first staged in approximately 1599.

Shawn Fagan (foreground) as King Henry V and the Ensemble (photos by Jon Gardiner)
Shawn Fagan (foreground) as King Henry V and the Ensemble (photos by Jon Gardiner)

PRC producing artistic director Joe Haj and Mike Donahue previously worked together in November 2009 — as co-director and assistant director — on the company’s warmly applauded two-part presentation of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, which Haj co-directed with Tom Quaintance. Donahue also directed A Number last September for the UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence’s PRC2 second-stage series; and Haj has directed PlayMakers Rep’s critically acclaimed productions of Cyrano de Bergerac (2006) starring Ray Dooley, Amadeus (2008) and again in 2010 with the North Carolina Symphony, As You Like It (2010), and Big River (2011). He also starred in the PRC presentation of When the Bulbul Stopped Singing (2007).

“This is the first time I’ve directed a history play of Shakespeare’s,” confesses Mike Donahue. “Most of my recent work has been in new play development and opera, but I’ve always admired the scale at which Shakespeare operates when creating epic stories like these. It’s rare to have an opportunity to work on a project of this size, and it’s an exhilarating experience.”

In contrast, Joe Haj notes, “I have a long relationship with Shakespeare, and in particular, the Henry plays. I first worked with the great director Garland Wright on a project similar to this back in 1990 at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, where they programmed the entire tetralogy (Richard II; Henry IV, Parts One and Two; and Henry V) in one season.”

Haj adds, “I also directed a production of Henry V, with a cast of prisoners, in a maximum-security block at California State Prison, LA County.

“In its 2004-05 season, PlayMakers did a production of Richard II, which is one of my favorite plays and such an integral part of this history cycle,” recalls Joe Haj. “This summer, I will be directing another production of Henry V at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival [in Ashland, OR], so needless to say, the story of these plays and people is dear to my heart, and one that I’m intimately connected to.”

Shawn Fagan (foreground left) as Prince Hal and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as King Henry IV, with Patrick McHugh (background left) as Ned Poins and Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff
Shawn Fagan (foreground left) as Prince Hal and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as King Henry IV, with Patrick McHugh (background left) as Ned Poins and Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff

Mike Donahue says, “What I love about these plays is how, in the end, these are incredibly personal stories about people like you and me. These characters are people we recognize in our own world all the time — the lonely guy at the bar who starts drinking at 11 a.m., the college friend who keeps mooching off you, or the parent who’s constantly badgering you to grow up.

“They may be kings and princes to the rest of the world,” Donahue adds, “but in the end, they think and feel like fathers and sons. They relate to each other as friends, family, and lovers. They suffer loss when war happens. They hurt when they have to say goodbye. They struggle to connect.”

Donahue says, “It’s surprising how much love there is in a play about war, but I think that’s what makes this such an exceptional story — it’s something that many people in this country are dealing with, this desire for understanding and connection and unity when everything around them is chaotic and fragmented.”

Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff
Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff

Joe Haj adds, “In conceiving this production [of The Making of a King], I found myself particularly drawn to the story of Prince Hal [guest artist Shawn Fagan, making his PlayMakers debut], and how this rambunctious party boy who spends endless nights drunk in a tavern comes to be one of the greatest military leaders in world history — and how his success as a military leader is irrevocably linked to his younger years as a ruffian.

“This idea of having to grow up, having to assume tremendous responsibility as a king and become a man, knowing that you eventually have to leave behind people that you love and break bonds with old friends for the sake of a future that has been carved out for you, it is Shakespeare’s greatest coming-of-age story,” claims Haj.

Joe Haj explains, “The story begins with King Henry IV (Jeffrey Blair Cornell), who is wrestling with civil unrest in the England. His son Prince Hal (Shawn Fagan) is heir to the throne, but failing in his duties, spending all his time drinking at the local tavern with his friend and surrogate father figure John Falstaff (Michael Winters of the ‘Gilmore Girls’ television series).

Ray Dooley (left) as the Earl of Worcester and Cody Nickell as Henry "Hotspur" Percy
Ray Dooley (left) as the Earl of Worcester and Cody Nickell as Henry "Hotspur" Percy

“A band of English rebels, led by Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Cody Nickell) and the Earl of Worcester (Ray Dooley), plan to join forces to usurp King Henry IV,” Haj explains. “Henry IV demands that Hal return to the court to help defend the throne.

“Hal joins the King’s army and they meet the rebel forces at the field of Shrewsbury [in 1403],” Haj reports. “Hal and Hotspur fight, and Hotspur is killed. Eventually, the rebel forces are defeated. King Henry IV dies, and Hal assumes the throne [in 1413].”

Joe Haj says, “Hal (crowned King Henry V) now wishes to lay claim to France, and sends an army to invade the country. At the city of Harfleur, his forces encounter resistance; and Henry V rallies his troops with the patriotic famous speech: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ….’

“England is united under Henry’s leadership and wins Harfleur,” says Haj. “He then goes on to win the Battle of Agincourt [in 1415], and the French King (also played by Jeffrey Cornell) surrenders. He offers Henry the hand of his daughter, Katherine of Valois (Kelsey Didion), in marriage, so uniting England and France.”

Kelsey Didion as Princess Katherine of France and Shawn Fagan as King Henry V
Kelsey Didion as Princess Katherine of France and Shawn Fagan as King Henry V

Jeffrey Cornell also plays Pistol; Kelsey Didion also appears as Lady Percy and a French Soldier; Ray Dooley also portrays Fang, Shallow, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Burgundy; Cody Nickell also impersonates Fluellen; and Michael Winters also plays the Chorus, the Bishop of Ely, the Governor of Harfleur, and Erphingham.

In addition to the cast members named above, the PRC cast for The Making of a King includes (in alphabetical order): David Adamson as the Lord Chief Justice and Gower; John Allore as Bardolph; Dee Dee Batteast as Surrey, the Fourth Traveler, and the French messenger Montjoy; Brett Bolton as Hotspur’s Servant, Douglas, Grey, and a French Constable; Tania Chelnov as a Boy and Alice; Nathaniel P. Claridad as Peto and Nym; John Dreher as Gloucester and Mortimer; Brandon Garegnani as the First Traveler, a Servant, the First Groom, an English Herald, an Attendant, a Guard, and Court; Matt Garner as Warwick, the Third Traveler, Morton, and the fire-eating French Dauphin, who taunts King Henry V; Harry Harris as Walter Blunt, Northumberland, Glendower, Silence, and Exeter; Kathy Hunter-Williams as Mistress Quickly and the French Queen; Nilan Johnson as Vernon, Cambridge, and Bourbon; David McClutchey as Westmoreland; Patrick McHugh as Poins, Scroop, and Orleans; J. Alphonse Nicholson as Clarence and Michael Williams; Katie Paxton as Doll Tearsheet, Lady Mortimer, and Bates; Maren Searle as the Second Traveler, a Messenger, the Second Groom, and a French Messenger; and Josh Tobin as Lancaster, Snare, Bedford, and Macmorris.

In addition to co-directors Mike Donahue and Joe Haj, who doubles as producer for both shows, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for The Making of a King includes production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, costume designer Jennifer Caprio, sound designer/engineer Ryan J. Gastelum, movement coach/fight choreographer Craig Turner, vocal coach John Patrick, dramaturg Adam Versenyi, and stage managers Charles K. Bayang and Sarah Smiley. The shows also feature original music composer by musical director Mark Lewis.

Joe Haj says, “The set is a raised single-unit deck, surrounded by lower steps on three sides [and] framed by a series of second-story catwalks and stairs. On the upstage edge of the set are four towering doors that move and rotate to create walls, hallways, and corridors. In the center of the deck is an emblem reminiscent of Medieval English tile.

“We were very interested in exploring the tension between the feeling of symmetrical order of the English Court and [the] asymmetrical chaos of Hal’s life in the tavern,” explains Haj. “The world of Henry IV and Henry V is a masculine, industrial world, where war and civil unrest is ever-present.”

He adds, “Jan Chambers, our scenic designer, was inspired by the work of artist Richard Serra, who is known for his remarkable large-scale steel sculptures; and much of the metallic textures present in the design [are] inspired by his work.

“The set is a manifestation of the rigidity of centuries of tradition and responsibility, and the pursuit of individuality inside it,” says Joe Haj.

Haj claims, “The lighting of the production will help establish the opposing emotional worlds inside Henry IV and Henry V. There is the cold, austere atmosphere of King Henry IV’s English court, compared to the warm and fully lit world of Hal’s tavern. The play also moves with speed, so the lighting will also be fluid and forward-moving, propelling us quickly from one event to the next.”

Joe Haj adds, “Henry IV and Henry V are stories about people that we know and recognize in our everyday lives — fathers and sons, the political elite, our friends at the local bar, and the soldiers who fight our wars. To that end, it was important that clothing worn by the people of this play live in a vocabulary that was accessible to a contemporary audience, while staying true to the historical context of the play.

“The people of Hal’s tavern are in silhouettes and colors that are reminiscent of the period, but composed of contemporary fabrics and pieces fabrics like denim pants, leather dusters, and cotton henleys,” Haj notes. “We borrowed some equestrian influences when creating our military world, dressing the French army in formal horseback attire and riding boots.”

He adds, “Our king’s robe for both Henry IV and Henry V is a red leather duster coat, which looks both rugged and regal at the same time. Our goal was to draw from a more broad and universal understanding of the types of people these were, while staying emotionally evocative of the period rather than conforming to an obligation to costume them from a place of historical accuracy.”

Mike Donahue declares, “Working on any Shakespeare [play] is always a challenge, because the language is so rich and poetic — that’s par for the course. The Henry plays are particularly complex, because of the amount of historical information that comes presumed with the story.”

He adds, “In Shakespeare’s time, these characters were well-known political figures; but to our audience, they may feel obsolete. It is important to us that these people are real, and less of a history lesson.”

Joe Haj says, “The interesting thing about Henry IV and Henry V is that Shakespeare didn’t write them with the intention of performing them together – [that’s] a recent development that’s only happened in the 20th century. So, to approach these plays with that in mind has been a challenge — to connect the characters between the two plays, so that they form one continuous narrative, planting ideas and moments in Henry IV that are echoed in Henry V. And depending on which show our audiences choose to see first, folks can expect to see a great play and its sequel, or a great play and its prequel.”

RELATED EVENTS: In connection with The Making of a King, PlayMakers will investigate America’s engagement in various military conflicts via a series of special events entitled “Breaking History: Power, Politics, and the Legacy of War.” For details, click

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 25th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Grace Tatter: and Jan. 23rd preview by Katelyn Trela:

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE MAKING OF A KING: “HENRY IV” AND “HENRY V” with Previews of Henry IV at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 and 31 and Feb. 2 and Previews of Henry V at7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 and 3; Opening Day Performances on Feb 4 at 2 p.m. (Henry IV) and 7:30 p.m. (Henry V); Regular Performances of Henry IV at 2 p.m. Feb 5, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7-10, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17 and 18, 2 p.m. Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21, 2 p.m. Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, and 2 p.m. March 3; and Regular Performances of Henry V at 2 p.m. Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 16, 2 p.m. Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-25, 2 p.m. Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. March 1-3, and 2 p.m. March 4 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $10-$35, except $45 evening show and gala reception on Feb. 4th .

BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY (7529),, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311,, or


STUDY GUIDES (compiled by the Utah Shakespearean Festival):

Henry IV, Part One:

Henry IV, Part Part Two:

Henry V:


BLOG (PlayMakers Page to Stage):




NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Jan. 30th, PlayMakers Repertory Company will present an “In the Wings” program (“Some of Shakespeare’s greatest characters are coming to Durham County Library for a discussion with directors Joseph Haj and Mike Donahue. Learn about the unique challenges of making plays on an epic scale.”) at the main branch of the Durham County Library (, 300 N. Roxboro St., Durham, NC 27701 (directions:

NOTE 2: There will be 10:30 a.m. $8.50-per-person student matinees on Feb. 9th, Feb. 22nd (SOLD OUT) and March 1st (SOLD OUT). For details, click

NOTE 3: There will be open-captioned performances at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11th (Henry IV) and Feb. 18th (Henry V) (click for details).

NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors on Feb. 11th and 19th (Henry IV) and Feb. 26th and March 1st (Henry V).

NOTE 5: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh ( will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21st (Henry IV) and 28th (Henry V) shows, which will also be sign-language interpreted (click for more information about these All Access Performances).

NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation ( and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society ( will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion called “Thrice More into the Breach: The Making and Unmaking of Men in Peace and War,” led by Harold Kudler, MD, after the 2 p.m. March 3rd (Henry IV) and 2 p.m. March 4th (Henry V) performances.


Henry IV, Part One:,_Part_1 (Wikipedia) and (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

Henry IV, Part Two:,_Part_2 (Wikipedia) and (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

Henry V: (Wikipedia) and (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

William Shakespeare: (Wikipedia).

Shakespeare Resources: (University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

Joseph Haj: (PlayMakers Repertory Company).

Mike Donahue: (official website) and (PlayMakers Repertory Company).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).