Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Henry V"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark

"Henry V"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Normi Noel

Set Design by Skip Curtiss
Lighting Design by Steven Rosen
Costume Design by Seth Bodie
Resident Properties Manager Elizabeth Locke
Dramaturg David Evett
Composer and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay
Stage Manager Adele Nadine Traub

Ken Cheeseman

Prologue, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Scroop, Earl of Salisbury, Pistol, Michael Williams, King Charles VI

Doug Lockwood

Bishop of Ely, Duke of Bedford, Sir Thomas Grey, Sir Thomas Erpingham, Nym, Gower, Constable of France, Governor of Harfleur, Duke of Burgundy, French Soldier

Seth Powers

Henry V, Bardolph, Duke of Orleans

Paula Langton

Duke of Exeter, Mistress Quickly, Fluellen, Bates, Alice, Queen Isabella

Molly Schreiber

Earl of Cambridge, Duke of Gloucester, Boy, Ambassador, Dauphin, Katherine, Mountjoy

The latest e-mail newsletter from A.S.P. lists four mostly rave reviews of "Henry V" and, if you run all of them together, a fairly accurate picture of this brilliant production emerges. When so many more powerful Boston voices agree in such a tidal-wave of approval (of a show I loved )I need not cover identical ground. Instead, let me pick a few perhaps less relevent details that I happened to notice:

For instance, early on Director Normi Noel retains the oft-cut soliloquy in which Henry says he's building two "chantries" to sing prayers for the soul of "Richard" and admits this a pennance for the way his father got the crown. In this short, intense speech he brings to the minds of anyone familiar with Shagsberd's plays both the "Henry IV" plays, and "Richard II" --- in which Henry Bullingbrook deposed and killed a king in order to become Harry, the Fourth of That Name.

The other major reference to the past is the presence in Henry's army of Pistol (Ken Cheeseman) Nim (Doug Lockwood) and Bardolph (Seth Powers) --- who were young Harry's drinking, whoring, and thieving buddies in the two previous plays --- and the reference to the death of Prince Harry's mentor in thievery Sir John Falstaff (nee "Oakenshield", who's family demanded a re-write, crying slander).

Seth Powers playing Henry V breaks into a hoarse, shaken voice as he approves a sentence of hanging for former-friend old red-nosed Bardolph, for stealing from a French church --- an example needed to keep a conquered people from revolt. (It's also ironic here that, though I didn't recognize him till the third time he made the transition, Powers plays both Henry AND Bardolph!)

Then again, there are two scenes/speeches here often played in reverse order: At the end of one scene at the height of a battle that could go either way, Henry orders his men to slaughter all their French prisoners. (That way they could become "reinforcements" to the cause --- but the knights thus would lose the money the French would pay in ransom.) Later he learns that all the unprotected children guarding the supply-wagons were killed, and angrily roars that, never till now, did he hate the French --- to which someone cries that, in revenge, Henry will have the French prisoners killed. Is this a typographical error in reversed timing? In this play the eloquent face of Fluellen (Paula Langton), who was there in both scenes, hears this popular lie with silent awe and disbelief.

I don't think that noticing such details is vital to enjoying this fast, exciting, powerful spectacle, nor the incisively human arguments these bloody battles inspire. But the more you read and/or see of his stuff, an admiration of old Wilm Shaxpy's embrace of the length and depth of English history only grows and grows, and adds to every re-enactment of his plays.

And not only of ENGLISH history, of course: notice that Harry, the Fifth of That Name, conquered and occupied a country only a perilous-narrow ocean away --- yet "insurgents" made them bring their armies home once their soldier-king was dead. It's easy to see ourselves in such eternally human characters --- especially when such a beautiful bunch of actors bring them so honestly alive.

There are 32 named characters, by the way, but only five actors. But I don't think the reviewers I read [I rarely read anything about a show before writing a review of it], any of the five, had any useful theories as to WHY these lightning changes of character-and-costume worked so well. The truth is, all that's needed for a successful Shakespeare show is Actors+Text. Everything else tends to be merely decoration --- though they may often be useful for Specific Effects. ("Will we HEAR this play?" people asked one another in Shaxper's time.) I don't think the A.S.P.'s "poor theater" approach is so much a "minimalist style" being born, nor evidence they are prisoners of their budget. They just choose good directors, and put at their service actors committed to finding out what's of interest in each text. The possibilities are infinite.

And now a few irrelevent asides:
I stuck around to talk to the actors, and the atmosphere of their conversation felt much like that of a high-school football-team after winning the state championship by one point with a touchdown in the last minute of play: of course they were proud and happy at the reactions of "The Big Black Giant" --- but partly they sounded slightly in awe at how good they all had been out there on that stage. And eager to hear the observers verify their enthusiasm.

And when I happened to ask my perennially unanswered question (What does the director DO, exactly?) Ken Cheeseman, who teaches directors at a film school, gave me his standard answer that "The director is always the ultimate Story-teller: if something doesn't fit in the story That Director is telling, it doesn't go in."

And this memory:
One afternoon at Elsie's I ran into Eric Segal who had acted in the (second and )last play I performed-in here. He was between Harvard Commencement and writing the book "Love Story" and teaching a section of Freshman English. He invited me to come hear his "ball-busting lecture on 'Hank Cinque Minus A Half' " Tuesday next. He Meant "Henry IV Part Two." But, ever since, that title leaps to mind every time I hear or say "Henry Five."

Here are those reviews I read:
Louise Kennedy Boston GLOBE
Jenna Scherer Boston HERALD
Kilian Melloy EDGE Boston

And one more website:
Since the A.S.P. takes a study of the Subtexts and Implications of the plays they do seriously, they have offered discounts to veterans or current members of our Armed Forces for this in-depth study of wars and the reasons for wars. Also on Monday, 28 January (7 p m) they will hold a panel-discussion:

Henry V Conversations: What is a Just War?

for which adult admissions are $15, But Veterans and Active Military pay only $5. Bits from the play may serve as illustrations and cues to stimulate discussion. It sounds to me like an Important Event.

( a k a larry stark)

"Henry V" (10 January - 3 February)
Downstairs @ The Garage, 38 JFK Street, Harvard Square CAMBRIDGE MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide