Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Henry V"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


"Henry V"

Reviewed by Carl A. Rossi

"HENRY V"

by William Shakespeare
directed by Steve Maler

Chorus ….. Marya Lowry
A Child ….. James Kelly; Caleb Kissel
Archbishop of Canterbury ….. Jim Butterfield
Bishop of Ely ….. Malik B. El-Amin
Earl of Westmoreland ….. Ray McDavitt
King Henry V of England ….. Anthony Rapp
Montjoy, French Herald ….. Jim Spencer
Duke of Exeter, uncle to Henry ….. Robert Walsh
Bardolph ….. Christopher J. Hagberg
Nym ….. Charles Linshaw
Pistol ….. Jeremiah A. Kissel
Hostess, Pistol’s wife ….. Marya Lowry
Boy, formerly Falstaff’s Page ….. Kieran Daniel Mulcare
Duke of Bedford, brother to Henry V ….. Christopher Reed
Henry Scroop, English Traitor ….. John Porell
Richard of Cambridge, English Traitor ….. David Blais
Sir Thomas Grey, English Traitor ….. Gilbert Owuor
King Charles VI of France ….. Dennis Paton
Louis the Dauphin, heir to the French throne ….. Jonno Roberts
Constable Charles of France ….. Douglas Lyons
Captain Fluellen, a Welshman ….. John Kuntz
Captain Gower, an Englishman ….. Malik B. El-Amin
Captain MacMorris, an Irishman ….. Douglass Bowen Flynn
Governor of Harfleur ….. Ray McDavitt
Katherine, daughter of Charles VI ….. Georgia Hatzis
Alice, gentlewoman to Katherine ….. Linda Carmichael
Duke of Orleans, French nobleman ….. Gilbert Owuor
Duke of Bourbon, French nobleman ….. Charles Linshaw
Duke of Gloucester, brother to Henry V ….. Adam Soule
Sir Thomas Erpingham ….. Ray McDavitt
Alexander Court, English soldier ….. Scott Adams
John Bates, English soldier ….. Douglass Bowen Flynn
Michael Williams, English soldier ….. John Porell
Earl of Salisbury ….. Tivon Marcus
Duke of York ….. Rupak Bhattacharya
LeFer …..Christopher Hagberg
English Herald ….. Scott Adams
Queen Isabel of France ….. Patrice Jean-Baptiste
Duke of Burgundy ….. Jim Butterfield
French Attendants ….. Devin McNight; Seth Reich

After being disappointed – even outraged – over Steven Maler’s production of TWELFTH NIGHT (Summer 2001), I am pleased to report that his lastest CSC offering – HENRY V – is good, solid theatre, despite its having a “gimmick” and a less-than-ideal King.

HENRY V is a continuation of Shakespeare’s English history cycle, centering on the young King Henry, formerly known as Prince – Prince Hal, that is; the carousing lad of HENRY IV, Parts 1 and 2. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Shakespeare may have written HENRY V to glorify a national war hero who conquered France and, in turn, to flatter Queen Elizabeth (Henry’s glittering descendent). Coming after IV’s plays, V’s characters often ring hollow, being little more than mouthpieces for “Henry, England and St. George” (the immortal Falstaff dies offstage and is greatly missed here). Thus it was no surprise that Laurence Olivier’s patriotic 1944 film version – with its Old Vic acting style, love of Elizabethan stagecraft, and blend of artifice and reality – should become a huge success, boosting his country’s morale in its darkest hour. (I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film version, but from what I’ve heard he put back in what Lord Olivier left out – the gore; the blood; the brutality of war.)

Mr. Maler, feeling compelled to make a statement about the terrorist bombings of September 11, has set the play in a London subway station in 1939, during a Nazi air raid. Bombs fall overhead, and Londoners seek refuge below ground. A frightened boy is comforted by a woman (the Chorus) who tells him Henry’s story to buck him up, and Mr. Maler’s production takes off from there. Personally, I don’t think this gimmick works (France was England’s ally, not enemy, during WWII, and Mr. Maler’s harsh interpretation would only frighten, not comfort, the boy); but, all in all, Mr. Maler’s staging, characterizations and sense of spectacle are so good, so balanced this time around that should he choose to drop his gimmick and have the Chorus speak once again to the audience, he would have a near-perfect HENRY V.

Near-perfect, mind you – for New York’s Anthony Rapp lacks the radiance, the nobility of Shakespeare’s storybook hero and comes off as stunted, whiny, even sinister (i.e.,“modern”) – to quote the Bard, Mr. Rapp is the crab(apple) hissing in the bowl. Still, his cold gifts could work very nicely in a production of, say, THE LION IN WINTER. In a recent BOSTON PHOENIX article, Mr. Maler says, “… [Mr. Rapp] came to the first rehearsal completely off book, and that is really impressive.” Most impressive, indeed, considering Henry has many an air-chewing aria, but it may also explain Mr. Rapp’s lack of rapport with his ensemble – no doubt, he arrived with his character already set, and Mr. Maler, like an indulgent parent, seems content to let him run freely through the Commons. (I wonder if Mr. Maler and the CSC will continue to woo “name” actors for future productions – regardless of the results – instead of grooming the local talent. Greenroom, anyone?)

The ensemble may become a mere frame to Mr. Rapp’s dour Henry, but it is studded with jewels, nevertheless – and they can speak the speech, I pray you! Marya Lowry (playing both Chorus and Hostess) is an ideal heroine: declamation flows effortlessly from her; her voice is strong and sure, yet womanly – a golden trumpet warmed by the sun. Mr. Maler has once again consigned that reliable fellow, Jim Butterfield, to bit parts – the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Burgundy – and Mr. Butterfield’s intelligent readings only point up the fact that A Good Actor Is A Terrible Thing to Waste (what a pair of Macbeths he and Ms. Lowry would make!). Jeremiah Kissel, easily Boston’s best Shakespearean actor, is also wasted in the comic role of Pistol, reduced to “Aye, me hearties” intonations (at one point, he enters singing, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”). In fact, why shouldn’t CSC offer an evening of Ms. Lowry and the Messrs. Butterfield and Kissel in Shakepearean arias, duets and trios? I would definitely come to see them, as, no doubt, would others – especially tomorrow’s actors.

Two TWELFTH NIGHT casualties redeem themselves handsomely: John Kuntz’s gruff Fluellen (though his Welsh accent comes by way of India) and Jonno Roberts’ high-strung, coltish Dauphin (a true Henry in the making). Dennis Paton (King Charles VI of France), Georgia Hatzis (Katherine), Linda Carmichael (Alice), Ray McDavitt (Earl of Westmoreland; Governor of Harfleur; Sir Thomas Erpingham), Jim Spencer (Montjoy) and Kieran Daniel Mulcare (Boy) sparkle with character, wit, and lovely voices; and I’m pleased to see two talented Northeastern students – Gilbert Owuor and Scott Adams – being given an opportunity to trod the boards with the best of ‘em.

Susan Zeeman Rogers has done a clever variation of the CSC raked stage, with her actors instantly creating locales by means of trapdoors and clotheslines; Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes may be a mixture of Henry’s era and the 1940s, but at least they remain consistent throughout; and Linda O’Brien’s lighting design has a stunning moment: when Henry instructs his troops to fire three rounds of arrows upon the French (flaming arrows?), three brilliant flashes illuminate the stage, the audience, the world. Robert Walsh comes up with Fight Choreography 101 (how to stage battle scenes using actors who have little or no training): stylized gestures; slow-motion clashes; much running about; etc. (the thumpa-thumpa battle music cries out for a disco moon). The sound system has a few bugs (a full-throated speech can go whisper-soft with a mere turn of the head), and the production’s three chandeliers seem to have minds of their own.

This HENRY, I believe, is performed intact (3 hours) with only one intermission, which results in a stampede for the portable toilets; long into Act Two, this HENRY – good as it is – must compete with Urinetown.

NOTE: Next week, I will be attending four productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, including THE WINTER’S TALE and TITUS ANDRONICUS. I will keep you posted.

"Henry V" (19 July - 4 August)
COMMONWEALTH SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 423-7600

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