Fuel up and strap in.

The Guthrie Theater opens its epic staging of Shakespeare’s History Plays, drawing patrons from across the country and globe for a once-in-a-generation production that’s also one of the nation’s biggest theatrical events of the year. The 12-hour marathon distills the warping ambition and deadly struggle for power of the first three English kings to break away from Norman rule.

The plays — “Richard II,” “Henry IV” and “Henry V” — are staged by Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj with a 25-member acting ensemble who have been rehearsing for three months. You can enjoy the works in one swoop on April 13 and May 18, with plays at 10 a.m., 3 and 8:30 p.m. Or you can catch them a la carte with plays running in rotating repertory through May 25.

The Guthrie Theater last staged its marathon History Plays in 1990. In that production’s “Richard II,” Charles Janasz (in crown), who played the title monarch, confronts John of Gaunt (Richard Iglewski) while the Duke of York (Richard Ooms, second from right), looks on. Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune.

The concept has been long in the dreaming. Haj was part of the marathon production of the same plays that the late artistic director Garland Wright co-directed with theater leader Charlie Newell at the Guthrie in 1990. Haj had programmed the cycle for the 2020-21 season but it was pushed back by COVID-19.

“Since I came to the Guthrie, I wanted to see if I could do them in rotating [repertory],” Haj said, adding that he was drawn to them not just because of the great poetry of, say, “Richard II,” but because of what they tell us about the here and now.

“We don’t do these plays so as to look at them as if under glass or as museum pieces,” Haj said. “We do them because they have contemporary relevance and purchase.”

A normal show at the Guthrie or most any theater will have one assistant director. Haj has two assistant directors for this project. In addition, Lavina Jadhwani, who adapted “A Christmas Carol” and staged “As You Like It” at the Guthrie, is the associate director.

The creative team includes composer Jack Herrick, who helped lift the drama in last season’s “Hamlet” by providing a filmic score. He has been tapped to do similar work here. Jan Chambers, who worked for years with Haj at Playmaker’s Repertory Theatre, and Trevor Bowen, who crafted the exquisite costumes for last year’s “Hamlet,” are part of the design team

Marathoners’ journey across the dramas

Almost every actor is in each of the three back-to-back plays — with many playing multiple roles in a single show.

Follow each actor across their program pages by hovering and scrolling horizontally right.

What’s the history of these shows at the Guthrie?

The Wright-Newell-directed version of 34 years ago had a cast that included Stephen Yoakam as king-killer Bolingbroke. Yoakam, who now plays eager warrior Sir Henry Percy, nicknamed by his enemies Hotspur, carries the history of that production into this one.

Newell, who would go on to lead Chicago’s Court Theatre for three decades, plans to be in attendance Saturday at the Guthrie. He is pleased that the roles of a lifetime have now happened twice in his lifetime.

Being in the earlier production was “an utterly seminal experience in my artistic life,” Haj said.

Above: Daniel José Molina, who plays Prince Henry in “Henry IV,” adjusts his crown during a rehearsal in preparation for the Guthrie’s History Plays. Patrons can take in all three plays — “Richard II,” “Henry IV” (both parts), and “Henry V” — on April 13 and May 18. Left: The backstage crew work at their stations during a tech rehearsal. Right: Production stage manager Tree O'Halloran did the same job in the Guthrie's 1990 Shakespeare cycle. Photos by Angelina Katsanis, Star Tribune

Who are the kings?

Their journeys form a tragic carousel of crowns. “Richard II” centers on a king who believes that God ordained him to rule. He loses power and becomes an ordinary man, and a dead one at that. “Henry IV,” a two-part work that Haj and dramaturge Carl Steen have condensed into one, is about Richard’s killer and successor — a man who would do anything for power, even as he tries to wash the stain from his hands. And “Henry V” is about a reluctant monarch and capable warrior who knows the weight of the crown and puts it on with a heavy sense of duty.

All the plays function independently, “but being able to build something in ‘Richard II’ that I could pull the thread on 11 hours later in ‘Henry V,’ is really fun from an artistic standpoint,” Haj said.

Who all wear the crown?

Richard is being depicted by multi-hyphenate theater wunderkind Tyler Michaels King, who fans may remember for his playful Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his magical Ariel in “The Tempest,” both at the Guthrie. Michaels King also plays nobleman and potential crown claimant Mortimer in “Henry IV,” and, in the later plays, Henry’s family member Lancaster, who later becomes the Duke of Bedford.

In one aspect, Michaels King’s theatrical journey in Shakespeare metaphorically follows the spirit of Richard II in that both were once high-flying and are now grounded. “I started out soaring [as Puck and Ariel] and now I’m coming to the earth — grounding and feeling the bones of the character,” Michaels King said.

Will Sturdivant, who plays both Bolingbroke and Henry IV, is a classics veteran who will notch his 34th Shakespeare work with this show. The New Yorker is a proud graduate of the Guthrie/University of Minnesota BFA program. “This stage is my home stage, but I’ve never been a part of anything this mammoth and breathtaking,” Sturdivant said.

A Shakespeare pro but a newcomer to the Guthrie, Daniel José Molina has played Henry V at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He is so fond of that character that he has the Roman numeral V tattooed on his left arm. In addition to playing Henry V, he is Prince Henry in “Henry IV” and craven opportunist Lord Green in “Richard II.”

“Lord Green is such a sycophant and a climber,” Molina said. “It’s fun to get under the skin of one of these people who enable tyrants and abusers of power.”

Guthrie Theater artistic director Joseph Haj, cast member Tyler Michaels King and props head Karin Rabe talk about prepping for the once-in-a-generation production.

Who else will be in the kings’ courts?

The acting ensemble offers a mix of Minnesota-based and national talent. Charity Jones, John Catron, Tracey Maloney, Kurt Kwan, Bill McCallum, Eric Sharp and Stephanie Anne Bertumen have all trod the Guthrie boards. They join the likes of New Yorker Melissa Maxwell, who was in the Guthrie’s “Steel Magnolias,” and Chicagoan Jasmine Bracey.

Maxwell plays the Duchess of Gloucester and the Bishop of Carlisle in “Richard II,” and Westmoreland in both “Henry IV” and “Henry V.” Bracey plays the Duchess of York in “Richard II,” Thomas Percy, the Earl of Worcester in “Henry IV,” and Alice, a lady-in-waiting plus a royal messenger in “Henry V.”

“As one of those actors who came from New York, I feel like I won the lottery,” Maxwell said, adding that it seemed like everyone she knew was trying out for the marathon.

For Maloney, whose parts include dukes in “Richard II” and “Henry V,” this show offers not just a career high, but a departure from her usual ingenue roles.

“Almost all the women and men I play are badasses,” Maloney gushed. “I’m this general for three minutes and I’m in this Joan-of-Arc chain mail that’s so cool.”

Like other artisans, the costumers and prop masters have been all hands-on deck to get the Guthrie Theater ready and set for the History Plays marathon. Above: Tailor Abbie Kenyon collects garments in the costume shop. Left: Prop shop coordinator Dan Fritschie measures the depth of a prop in the workshop. Right: Dana Shepard lays out fabric in the costume shop. The costumes are designed by Trevor Bowen, who also did the striking ones for “Hamlet.” Photos by Angelina Katsanis, Star Tribune.

Why should we care?

These stories are about people going through an awful lot of things that are similar to what we’re going through in our politics today. Besides, some classics are as good as new, Haj said.

“If I’m seeing a play for the first time and I’ve never read, it is a brand new play to me,” Haj said. “The narcissism of the day is such that we think all of our problems are only our own as if nobody else has ever had them. Those classic plays are great because you go, ‘Wow, you know 400 years ago Shakespeare was writing about this thing and it sounds an awful lot like our political moment.’”

Added Maxwell: “People always characterize these as histories, and some people may think that they’re boring. They’re really family dramas. They’re about fathers and sons not learning to love each other until they’re at death’s door. Anybody who comes here who doesn’t know diddly squat about history will see their struggles in these plays.”

Daniel José Molina, who plays Prince Henry in “Henry IV” and the title character in “Henry V,” said he watches his diet, jumps rope and exercises to keep his stamina up for the marathon. Photo by Angelina Katsanis, Star Tribune.

How do the actors prepare for the marathon?

In terms of endurance, the actors have been maintaining special regimens of diet and exercise. Some do yoga and meditate, others kickbox and jump rope.

Michaels King plans to have a big breakfast Saturday. And after carrying the load at Richard II in the first show, he will reset while trying to keep his body warm.

“I’m not a huge napper but lying down while reading or listening to music or a podcast is a usual combo,” he said.

Eric Sharp, who plays nobleman Lord Berkeley in “Richard II,” Thomas, the title character’s son in “Henry IV,” and conspirator Sir Thomas Grey in “Henry V,” says that he will also be indulging in kimchi. On Friday, his day off, he said he will treat himself to a nice, early afternoon meal and then it’s “sleep, sleep, sleep.”

A vegetarian, Maxwell is upping her routine of protein shakes, exercises and power naps. “I’m in the gym at 5 a.m., doing the treadmill or rower,” Maxwell said. “I stretch to build stamina and strength.”

What about audiences?

Rest up and perhaps do calisthenics between shows. Stay hydrated. For nourishment, the Guthrie is selling food packages, provided by Chowgirls Catering, the theater’s regular provider of food and snacks, with tickets. There also will be food trucks offering a variety of cuisine outside the theater.

History Plays

Who Written by William Shakespeare and directed by Joseph Haj.

When This week’s a la carte schedule: 7:30 p.m. Tues., “Richard II” preview; 7:30 p.m. Wed., “Henry IV” preview; 7:30 p.m. Thu., “Henry V” preview. The marathon is on April 13 and May 18, with plays at 10 a.m., 3 and 8:30 p.m.

Where Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.

Tickets $34-$82 for single tickets on non-marathon days, $66-$150 for all shows on marathon days. 612-377-2224, guthrietheater.org.

Parking Typically, the city-owned Riverfront Ramp on S. 2nd St., which has 500-plus spots and is across from the Guthrie, has a $14 parking pass that lasts 10 hours. The Guthrie has reached out to the city to see if patrons can get a special parking accommodation. There also are parking spots at meters near the theater.