Mary V vs. Henry V? When Gender Struggles Are Center Stage

In Mary V, a feminist exploration of Shakespeare’s Henry V, women battle for control of a production of Henry V. Led by their hero Mary, the play explores the ways in which the division between femininity and masculinity ultimately yields destruction for both sexes, and argues that peace and understanding of gender are preferable to bias and conflict. Nietzsche’s concept of “the abyss gaze[ing] back” and faithfulness to one’s ideals is a  prominent theme. Written by Rebekah Carrow and codirected by Pati Amoroso and Yonatan Weinstein, Mary V has been described as a genderbending exploration of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The plot revolves around a production of Henry V, being performed by a traditional male cast. They are challenged by an all-female cast, led by Mary. Neither side is willing to give up their rights to perform the play. The result is a gender tug of war—or cast warfare.

Mary finds herself becoming more like her rival Henry, sacrificing her feminine qualities to assure victory. When a battle erupts and her friends are put in mortal danger, Mary has to decide whether she will allow power to corrupt who she is. Examining burning moral questions is key if Mary’s troupe is to prove triumphant.

The looming moral question at the core of the play is inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation that “Whoever fights a monster should see to it that in the process [s/]he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Mary and her band of sisters initially stand firm in their belief that a more genderdiverse rendition of Shakespeare’s play is essential. However, under the scrutiny of the remote, eerily dominant director, Mary finds herself becoming more masculine and aggressive, and the role of king begins to alter her sense of morality and her very being.

The male characters find themselves falling into similar traps as their dedication to defeating women whom they view as threatening leads them down a dark path.

The feminist-inspired play was performed in New York in late August and September as part of the Theatre for the New City’s Dream Up Festival.

Mary V is a commentary on the danger of the masculine/feminine binary. Both sides are separated by a wall erected in the center of the stage, an overly obvious symbol of the artificial constraints society erects between people who identify as male and female. It is only after the wall is broken down and the battle fought that true peace can be realized. The result yields a production of an invigorated version of Shakespeare’s classic with both men and women in the lead roles.

 

The role of Mary was played by the playwright, Rebekah Carrow. Carrow, a recent graduate of the Atlantic Acting Studio Evening Conservatory, spent the past year writing Mary V. Carrow’s goal is to expand “femininity on the American stage” and she is particularly interested in exploring themes of gender roles and feminism in her work. Her past acting credits include the roles of Mercutio in Juliet & Her Romeo, Nurse/Teacher in B in Oblivion, and Gigi in 231. Mary V is Carrow’s first play.