Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Richard II
Director David Muse is working with a large canvas: Sidney Harman Hall has a vastly wide, deep and tall stage (with seating on three sides in the current configuration) and a large, animated cast brings the saga to life. He brings a cinematic sensibility to the battle sceneshe directs the audience's attention through tightly focused lighting while immersing the stage in combat soundsand offers intriguing insights into character.
To begin with, Muse has cast the Chorus, which provides the introduction and narration between scenes, with three performers in modern dress: a soldier (Ted van Griethuysen), a bow-tied professor (Larry Paulsen), and a spirited young woman (Robynn Rodriguez). They control the action, even to the point of cueing the house lights for intermission.
The repertory gives Hayden the opportunity to play two roles that are polar opposites of each other. Unlike his cousin Richard, who had power handed to him in childhood and then abused it, Henry has a lot to prove: his father deposed Richard, meaning his succession may be questioned, and, as Shakespeare's Henry IV plays make clear, he spent his youth roistering about in taverns with lowlifes such as Sir John Falstaff (T. Anthony Quinn). An explanatory note: Shakespeare actually kept Falstaff offstage in this play, but Muse must have thought that such a dynamic and famous character should make at least a cameo appearance.
The text, perceived through Muse's crystalline direction, shows how Henry grows in stature when he makes a claim for the throne of Francebecause his great-great-grandfather married the sister of three French kings (the intermarriage among European royal families gets very thick at times)and through the tough, problematic decisions that go with leading an army.
While Hayden is the core of the production, many other performers also stand out. Derrick Lee Weeden is Henry's uncle and stalwart ally, the Duke of Exeter; Stephen Paul Johnson, as the combative Welsh Captain Fluellen, is endearing even when under fire; Tom Story is a perfectly supercilious Dauphin, heir to King Charles VI of France (another quietly commanding performance from Philip Goodwin); and Floyd King scores as both the sneaky Bardolph and the calm Duke of Burgundy. Rachael Holmes has only two scenes as the French Princess Katharine, but she's charming in both of them.
Lee Savage's rough scenic design serves as the palette for Mark McCullough's expansive lighting design, which even incorporates flashlights held by actors; Elizabeth Hope Clancy's costumes, subdued for the English and flamboyant for the French; Fabian Obispo's musical score; and Martin Desjardins' all-encompassing sound design.
Shakespeare Theatre Company