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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Once More Unto The Breach: Shakespeare Theatre Opens 2007 Season with Henry V

Also see Bob's review of The Underpants

Henry V
David Conrad and
Kate Baldwin

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is at the top of its form in Henry V, the inaugural production of its expanded 45th Anniversary season.  Imaginatively designed and conceived, solidly acted and sharply directed by its artistic director Bonnie J. Monte, it is easily STNJ's best production since the stunning world class 2005 Julius Caesar.

Bonnie J. Monte has built her production around Shakespeare's employment here of a chorus which introduces each of the five acts and provides an epilogue.  The chorus appears in the form of  an actor-narrator (Jack Wetherall).  Her setting is the open stage of a theatre with visible counterweights, various racks at the wings in which are stored props and costume accessories, and a smallish white draped cloth hanging from rigging toward the rear.  Aside from some manipulation of the cloth, two narrow overlapping flat panels to represent the gates of the town of Harfleur, and a lush hanging tapestry for scenes in the court of Charles VI, there is no scenery.  The stage floor is a full stage wooden "O" which is severely raked in order for it to become part of our sense that we are in an Elizabethan theatre (it is of no matter that the term "the wooden O" is a description of the shape of the Globe Theatre and its predecessor  and not its stage).  In this setting, there is an enticing story theatre quality to our actor-narrator's prologue:    

(but  pardon)… that hath dar'd
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? ...
Think when we talk of horses that you see them
Printing their proud hoof i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings ...

And later, it is pure theatrical magic when our actor-narrator steps directly from that role and becomes the French herald Montjoy.

The design team expertly enhances Monte's concept.  Michael Schweikardt's "wooden O" set provides a perfect setting.  Dane Laffrey's largely unadorned and stylistically diverse costumes appear to have been drawn from the costume trunks at hand.  The powerfully striking and effective sound design is by Karin Graybash, and the sharp lighting design is the work of Steven Rosen.

It is no secret that Henry V is a jingoistic play which takes nationalist pride in a war which was waged by an English monarch who felt entitled to assume the throne of France based upon a convoluted interpretation of the rules of ascension.  However, rather than structuring her scenes only to build to the rousing speeches and battles (the latter are reported, but the battle action remains entirely off stage), Monte has wisely given weight to often perfunctorily presented scenes, making this production richly in texture.  The scenes depicting the concerns and fears of officers and soldiers, the hypocrisy of venal clergy who meddle in royal politics, the hollowness of kingship and the foolish vanity of men are given full weight and prominence here.

There is a great deal of depth in the casting, and there is well defined characterization and clarity of speech throughout.  David Conrad conveys strength and seriousness of purpose  in Henry's determination to show to all that he has put his wastrel Prince Hal days behind him.  As Henry makes his difficult choices, Conrad conveys the sense that, while he is striving to show that he is strong and resolute, Henry is less than certain of himself.  Ames Adamson delivers a lively, most entertaining performance as the blustery Welshman, Captain Fluellen.

And then there is the humorous courtship of  France's Princess Katherine by Henry.  Kate Baldwin is a charming French-speaking presence, ultimately speaking just a soupcon of English.  Chantal Jean-Pierre endows her lady-in-waiting Alice with totally delightful impish good humor.  Second to none is master storyteller Jack Wetherall.  Wetherall is our host, and he sets the table flawlessly, animating our evening throughout with his stylish storytelling.

Knowing that in October, STNJ will present Blood and Roses: Shakespeare's Henry VI, a single play adaptation of  Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3, adapted and directed by Brian B. Crowe, added to the joy in hearing our actor-narrator's closing lines (he first speaks of Henry V): 

... This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world's best garden he achiev'd
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd king
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing
That they lost France and made his England bleed;
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.

There are few New Jersey theatres with the resources and will to bring Shakespeare to New Jersey audiences on more than a rare basis. So "once more unto the breach, dear friends" has come the Shakespeare Theatre to fill the void with Bonnie J. Monte's exceptionally well conceived production of Henry V.

Henry V continues performances (Tues. 7:30 p.m./ Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m./ Sun. 7 p.m.) through May 27, 2007 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600. online www.shakespeareNJ.org.

Henry V by William Shakespeare, directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast
(in order of speaking)

The Chorus……………………………………Jack Wetherall
Archbishop of Canterbury…………………….Ian Stuart
Bishop of Ely…………………………………Ames Adamson
King Henry V………………………………....David Conrad
Lord Scroop, Earl of Masham...………………Josh Carpenter
Duke of Exeter, uncle to the King…………….Raphael Nash Thompson
Earl of Westmoreland…………………………Richard Bourg
Duke of Gloucester, brother to the King……..Christopher Thornton
Montjoy………………………………………..Jack Wetherall
Bardolph………………………………………Scott Whitehurst
Nym…………………………………………...Darren Matthias
Pistol…………………………………………..Brent Langdon
Hostess Quickly..……………………………...Chantal Jean-Pierre
Boy…………………………………………….Seamus Mulcahy
Duke of Bedford, brother to the King………...Garth McCardle
Earl of Cambridge……………………………..Sean Tarrant
Sir Thomas Grey………………………………Anthony De Luca
Charles VI, King of France…………………….Ian Stuart
The Dauphin…………………………………....John Patrick Doherty
Constable of France……………………………Scott Whitehurst
French Attendant………………………………Salvatore Cacciato
Captain Fluellen..……………………………...Ames Adamson
Captain Gower..………………………………..Sean Tarrant
Captain Jamy..…………………………………Salvatore Cacciato
Captain MacMorris….………………………...Scott McIntosh
Governor of Harfleur…………………………...Richard Bourg
Princess Katharine of France…………………...Kate Baldwin
Alice……………………………………………Chantal Jean-Pierre
Duke of Bourbon……………………………....Garth McCardle
Duke of Orléans………………………………..Philip Mutz
Rambures……………. ……………………….Darren Matthias
Sir Thomas Erpingham…………………………Richard Bourg
Court……………………………………………Christopher Thornton
Bates…………………………………………….Anthony De Luca
Williams………………………………………...Josh Carpenter
French Soldier…………………………………..Philip Mutz
English Attendant……………………………….Salvatore Cacciato
Duke of Burgundy………………………………Richard Bourg  


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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