'Shakespeare in the Raw' Production of HENRY V Will Be Performed by First Maria Ensemble and Knickerbocker Players in March

Performances run March 15 to 17.

By: Feb. 27, 2024
'Shakespeare in the Raw' Production of HENRY V Will Be Performed by First Maria Ensemble and Knickerbocker Players  in March
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From March 15 to 17, First Maria Ensemble and Knickerbocker Players will present a "Shakespeare in the Raw" production of "Henry V" at Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater, 10 West 64th Street. First Maria Ensemble is young-and-hungry company, led by Celeste Moratti, which emerged before the pandemic with memorable productions of "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" at Teatro Circulo. Knickerbocker Players, led by Patrick Siler, is a new ensemble dedicated to "Shakespeare in the Raw."

"Shakespeare in the Raw" is a performance style where Shakespearean plays are presented in a stripped-down, simple, direct fashion with minimal sets, costumes, and props. The goal is to focus attention on language, characters, and themes rather than elaborate staging or production elements. The approach can provide audiences with a more intimate, immediate connection to the text, allowing them to engage more deeply with the timeless themes and characters of the plays. It's exciting and risky, fast-moving and efficient. Actors arrive with their parts memorized by rote and there is only three days' rehearsal. There are no lights or set and minimal props. The concept of the play is self-generated by the ensemble and there is no director, only a "Conductor." That job will be shared between Rachel Leighson and Patrick Siler.  Celeste Moratti, Artistic Director of First Maria Ensemble, has performed prolifically in Shakespeare in the Raw productions.  She says, "If the actors know how to work, it's always good. It moves fast and efficiently. You only have time to serve the play." Co-presenter Patrick Siler specializes in this approach, having worked exclusively in it with small regional companies he led between 2007 and 2020. All cast members of this production are veterans of his approach.

This "Henry V" will be the first in a cycle of such undertakings by the two co-presenters. First Maria Ensemble and Knickerbocker Players plan to mount one such production every few months. Upcoming will be "The Merchant of Venice" this August.

In "Henry V," Collin McConnell heads the cast as the title character. The other actors are: Aleda Bliss, Jennifer Bruckner, Omar Javed, Adam Kampouris, Sean Lounsbury, Hraban Luyat, Iain McLellan, Celeste Moratti, Erin Roth, Patrick Siler and Simone Stadler.

First Maria Ensemble, led by Artistic Director Celeste Moratti, made an auspicious debut in 2016 with "Hamlet" at Teatro Circulo. Theater Pizazz (JK Clarke) declared, "This season has seen a lot of good small-company productions of Shakespeare plays, and First Maria’s 'Hamlet' is one of the best." Front Row Center (Holli Harms) added, "Here is hoping that Celeste Moratti continues on this trajectory of directorial discoveries." Beside directing it, Ms. Moratti played Gertrude in the production. It was followed in 2018 by a "Macbeth" that was distinguished by radical, unusual production design at the same theater. Theatre Pizzazz (JK Clarke) opined, "It’s been too long between First Maria Productions…. their willingness to take chances with Shakespeare is more than welcome. I’m eager to see what they do next." Theatre is Easy (Dan Rubins) reported, "An effective production surging with spandex gives 'Macbeth' a whole new look….visually stunning…. Moratti’s own 'Unsex me here' speech is probably the most riveting I’ve ever seen."

The Knickerbocker Players are the newest creation of Patrick Siler, seeking to bring together an ensemble of theater makers who excel at the unique minimalist, ‘raw’ style that he has pioneered in both indoor and outdoor productions. The Knickerbocker Players believe, as Peter O’Toole said, that the business of theater is to provide “bare boards and a passion.” In that spirit, they perform Shakespeare unburdened by spectacle and focus instead on what matters most: the play. 

Colin McConnell (Henry V) has performed in half of the Bard's canon, including Classical Theater of Harlem's "Twelfth Night," Prince Hal/Henry V in "1, 2 Henry IV," "Henry V uncut" in rep, and several bouts as the title role in "Macbeth." Beyond the classics, he has appeared in new works in productions of Gingold Theatrical Group, Classical Theater of Harlem, Stable Cable Lab Co. and Adaptive Arts. He is also a playwright.