Sunday, August 4, 2019

Henry V (Shakespeare By The Sea 2019 Production) Theatre Review

Every summer Shakespeare By The Sea takes Shakespeare to you, or somewhere near you. The company travels southern California with two plays, building the stage, putting on the performance, tearing down and packing away the stage, and moving to the next location. In addition, on Saturdays a couple of the cast members field questions from the crowd. Such was the case in Encino last night before the performance of Henry V. Once the set was in place, Jonathan Fisher, who plays the title role, and Jane Hink, who plays Mistress Quickly and Alice, answered questions about the company and their work in it, including one question about the number of hours it takes to put together a show. It turns out these guys don’t get nearly as much rehearsal time as you’d think might be necessary. But you’d never guess that seeing the performance. The current production of Henry V is a completely enjoyable and engaging ride, and boasts some tremendous performances, particularly by Jonathan Fisher as King Henry and Olivia Schlueter-Corey as Katharine.

When the play opens, the Chorus (Patrick Vest) enters upstage center, putting his hand up to his face as if to shield his eyes from the sun, which works well with his first line, “O for a muse of fire, that would ascend.” The other actors enter from the audience during this speech, the Chorus then transitioning into Exeter and helping to dress Henry in his regal attire. Henry’s delivery of “May I with right and conscience make this claim?” is excellent, for he is honestly asking the question. So you get the sense that if the answer had been negative, that would have put an end to it. I also love that his immediate reaction is to the gift of tennis balls is to laugh. It shows that the youthful spirit he displayed in the Henry IV plays, when he himself took part in pranks, is still a part of his character. And then, knowing that he must display strength and power – both to the French, and to his own men, who likely still recall how he was in his youth – he turns and shows no sign of weakness during the bulk of his speech, particularly on the “mock” lines, which are delivered pointedly. I love watching his transformation within that speech.

As the Chorus delivers his speech at the beginning of Act II, a few characters engage in joyous practice with their weapons, showing the sort of innocent excitement before war, before seeing the results of war. When Bardolph (Andy Kallok) first enters in Act II, for a moment I believe him to be Falstaff, who plays an important role in Henry V without ever actually appearing on stage. Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Mistress Quickly and Boy all discuss him, as he lies on his deathbed offstage. Mistress Quickly (Jane Hink) pauses after “that live honestly by the prick,” giving Pistol a chance to react, which leads to her having to finish the thought: “of their needles.” We see a good deal of joy among this group before Falstaff’s death. In this production, scenes one and three are combined, with scene two then following. The exchange between Prince Henry and Falstaff from The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth in which Henry denies knowing the man is presented as a recording while Bardolph, Pistol and Nym are on stage, remembering. Then Mistress Quickly returns with the news of Falstaff’s death, which she conveys with a look, with the way she carries herself. Her delivery of the “cold as any stone” speech is serious and quite good, rather than played for humor. You could see tears in her eyes. The scene is rather moving. As I mentioned, the second scene of the act then follows, with Scroop, Cambridge and Grey. I love Henry’s deliver of the “and know I know your worthiness” line. When Henry proclaims their fate, he is upstage center, above, while the three are downstage, facing out toward the audience, an effective image.

The French characters are dressed mostly in shades of blue, and the actors do employ accents, to help keep sense of place clear to the audience (though the Chorus also does an excellent job of doing that). The Dauphin (Brendan Kane) looks to the king (Paul Burt) often during his speech for cues as to how to proceed, a nice touch to show the character’s inherent weakness of spirit. The Dauphin is portrayed as vain and effeminate, which presents a difficult endeavor these days. But Brendan Kane does a good job, giving enough to bring out the humor of the character without going so far as to seem offensive. When Exeter speaks to the Dauphin, he removes a tennis ball from his pouch. The reaction from the French king is excellent, giving us just enough to show he wasn’t involved or even aware of the tennis ball prank.

I love the very fluid way in which Patrick Vest transitions from Chorus to Exeter. After giving his speech at the beginning of Act III, he turns and enters the battle. As Henry delivers his “Once more unto the breach” speech the battle around him slows. Fluellen (Greg Prusiewicz) and Gower enter from the audience, and Fluellen has a delightful energy that in some ways feels to be the heart of the piece. There is an added moment where the Dauphin pretends to be a soldier with his men just before the English lesson scene. That scene with Katharine (Olivia Schlueter-Corey) and Alice (Jane Hink) is absolutely wonderful. Both actors are excellent here, deliciously conspiratorial at moments. I love Katharine’s delivery of “fingers.” When Bardolph is brought before Henry, he is jovial, laughing, certain of his favored – and therefore safe – status. He stands in front of the stage, while Henry is above him, and even though his back is to the audience for part of it, we can still see the shock he suffers when Henry speaks his words against him. This is a really nice and poignant moment, feeling like the end of the Harry these characters knew in the two Henry IV plays.

The Chorus’ speech from the beginning of Act IV is divided into two parts, with the first part moved to just before Act III Scene vii, which begins the second half of this performance. By the way, last night the sun went down during intermission (a beautiful sunset), so it was dark for the beginning of the second half, perfect for Act III Scene vii, which takes place at night. As the Chorus delivers the first part of the speech, the French are on stage, and that leads to Dauphin’s speech about his horse, which is hilarious. He and the two French men are great in this scene. The Chorus then continues his speech, “The poor condemned English,” and the English soldiers enter slowly. They are tired, weary. And the section where Henry goes about his men disguised is actually quite powerful and moving. Then when he enters for the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, he is decked out in his regal attire, ready to lead his soldiers into battle. Jonathan Fisher’s performance as Henry is outstanding, and he does a particularly good job with this speech. I love that pause after “We few” before “we happy few.” (Someone toward the back of the audience became audibly excited during this speech.)

Montjoy’s delivery of “Thou never shalt hear herald any more” has a somewhat angry tone, instead of the usual respectful tone we’ve come to expect. The soldier that Pistol goes after was already wounded and essentially incapacitated by Henry, a nice touch, showing the extent of Pistol’s cowardice. The bit with the leek toward the end always seems odd to me, but it is handled well here. Katharine is adorable in the wooing scene; so, for that matter, is Henry. On Henry’s “Can any of your neighbors tell, Kate,” he indicates the audience. This is a difficult scene to make believable, as the two characters have basically just met, and it sometimes feels out of place after all that has come before it, but in this production it flows quite naturally. That is due in large part to the incredible performances of Henry, Katharine and Alice. The play moves at a quick pace. There are quite a few cuts in order to keep the performance at approximately two hours, but we don’t feel like we are lacking much.

Henry V was directed by Stephanie Coltrin, and runs through August 16, 2019. There is one twenty-minute intermission, which comes at the end of Act III Scene vi. Visit the Shakespeare By The Sea website for the complete schedule. The performances are free, but donations are encouraged. Also, there is a concession stand with clothing and refreshments for sale.

No comments:

Post a Comment