Of all Shakespeare’s plays, the history plays tend to be the least often performed. Compared to the more well-known tragedies and comedies, the histories — which revolve around the times and wars of English kings — can be dense, uneven and full of exposition.
Garry Hynes, director of Ireland’s Druid Theatre Company, has returned to Lincoln Center Festival with “DruidShakespeare: The History Plays,” in which 90-minute adaptations of “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part I,” “Henry IV, Part II” and “Henry V” are presented with a 13-member Irish cast. All four plays can be viewed together on a Saturday or Sunday marathon.
The design scheme is purposely gloomy: a stage covered in earth with graves in the background, as if to stress the fields on which the battles are fought and their human toll.
“Richard II” and “Henry V” are better than both parts of “Henry IV,” and the performances are also uneven (no one else comes close to equaling Marty Rea’s absolutely extraordinary Richard II).
Cross-gender casting is an important Shakespeare tradition, but Hynes’ decision to use it for only a few of the major roles (Derbhle Crotty as Henry IV, Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V) for no discernible reason is ineffective and self-conscious.
Taken as a whole, “DruidShakespeare” is a valuable opportunity to experience the four history plays as a coherent, extended narrative in chronological order. (Shakespeare fans may recall that film versions of these four plays were recently presented by the BBC in the “Hollow Crown” series.)
If you go: “DruidShakespeare: The History Plays” plays at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as part of Lincoln Center Festival through July 19. 524 W. 59th St., lincolncenterfestival.org.