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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Henry V

Henry V
Zach Appelman, top center, and cast
William Shakespeare understood that he could not stage the epic story of Henry V without the assistance of the viewer's imagination: the Chorus (Richard Sheridan Willis) says as much in his opening speech. In the current production at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, director Robert Richmond and a hard-working cast of 13 actors create a visceral and hypnotic experience for the audience—even if it begins with a sound-effect gag stolen from Monty Python.

While Henry V may be considered a celebration of English greatness and dominance—Sir Laurence Olivier's 1944 film version certainly promoted the Allied cause during World War II—the play is not that simple. Young Henry (Zach Appelman) needs to prove the legitimacy of his rule and his ability to command when the King of France (Edward Christian) challenges his claim to French lands. Appelman is vital and effective as both the public Henry, making demands and stirring up the troops, and the military leader learning as he goes along.

Part of Shakespeare's genius is the way he lays out each stratum of society in the midst of turmoil, from the ruffians Bardolph (Louis Butelli), Pistol (James Keegan), and Nym (Michael John Casey) to the dignified European (Willis) and Exeter (Chris Genebach); from the sanctimonious Welshman Fluellen (Cameron Pow) to the boisterous Irish caricature Mycosis (Genebach) and the even more broadly drawn, furious but unintelligible Scotsman Jam (Willis).

Richmond's use of a small, versatile cast allows for some fortuitous doubling of roles. The three traitors Henry unmasks (Pomme Koch, Andrew Schwartz, and Christian) reappear as the members of the French court. Catherine Flye is both affecting as the tavern-keeper Mistress Quickly, who brings word of the offstage death of Sir John Falstaff, and charming, even sly, as Alice, attendant to the princess of France. Most startling is Katie deBuys' transformation from Falstaff's ragamuffin page to Katherine, the princess fated to marry Henry. Jessica Witchger sets the mood with almost constant musical accompaniment on several instruments.

The designers have used ingenuity to present momentous scenes on the constricted Folger stage. Tony Cisek's scenic design depicts the English siege of Honfleur through the raising and lowering of wooden beams with ropes and pulleys, and uses haze to convey the literal fog of war. Casey Dean Kaleba deserves much credit for his fierce fight choreography.

Folger Theatre
Henry V
January 22nd - March 3rd
By William Shakespeare
Henry V, King of England: Zach Appelman
Bishop of Ely/Bardolph/Williams: Louis Butelli
Nym/Westmoreland/Burgundy: Michael John Casey
Grey/King of France/Salisbury: Edward Christian
Katherine of France/Boy: Katie deBuys
Mistress Quickly/Alice/Bates: Catherine Flye
Exeter/MacMorris: Chris Genebach
Pistol: James Keegan
Scroop/Constable of France: Pomme Koch
Bishop of Canterbury/Fluellen: Cameron Pow
Cambridge/Dauphin: Andrew Schwartz
Chorus/Montjoy/Governor of Harfleur/Jamy/Erpingham: Richard Sheridan Willis
Musician/Gower: Jessica Witchger
Directed by Robert Richmond
Folger Shakespeare Library
Directed by Robert Richmond
Folger Shakespeare Library
201 E. Capitol St., S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu/theatre


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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