by Gerry Roe
The Prologue to Henry V makes it very clear that we audience members are expected to do our part in bringing the play to life. Acknowledging the impossibility of putting before us either the glory or the horrors of war, the prologue charges the audience with the responsibility to imagine this “little o,” theatre, as “the vastly fields of France.” Dreamwell’s Chorus consists of not just one actor but all the actors sharing in the delivery as if to say that we must imagine all the various locations—from the court to the camp, from the boudoir to the field of Agincourt—and all the people inhabiting them. The director, Angie Toomsen, uses all the actors and all the space in an inspired opening foretelling by word and deed the fresh and fluid action of the play we are about to see. In short, Dreamwell’s leap into Shakespeare does the Bard proud from the very beginning.
Most of the actors do at least double duty, which is hardly unusual in a play with so many characters; occasionally, however, in spite of the actors’ best efforts, I found it momentarily distracting to see Scott Strode’s King of France morph into Erpingham or Brian Tanner’s Bardolph resurrected as Orleans. But these two men are actors I know and admire, so the fault lies not with them but with me that I had to take a moment to adjust to their new characterizations.
Perhaps the most basic task of an actor is to know what he is saying. This is no simple thing as Henry V is filled with poetry, rich in imagery, and chock full of archaic words and usages; furthermore, some of the dialogue is in another language altogether. One of the greatest successes of this production is that the meaning of almost every line in English or in French is made clear to us. Not only do the actors seem to know what they are saying, they know why they are saying it. For this the director and the entire cast deserve our gratitude and our praise.
Impressive as each actor is, I can’t resist saying something about a few individuals. Mark McCusker’s Pistol brings wonderful energy to his role and consistently moves the play forward with each entrance. Jen Gerbyshak and Ottavia DeLuca are delightful in their French dialogues and in the courtship scene with
Henry, projecting their close relationship and their enjoyment of Henry’s discomfiture. Dennis Lambing as the Duke of Exeter makes clear his avuncular concern for Henry’s welfare. Rip Russell’s Fluellen has great comic timing and energy, but I confess to missing Fluellen’s Welsh accent and his leek (a green onion just doesn’t have the same impact).
K. Michael Moore’s Henry is wonderfully complex, a man concerned with acting responsibly (“May I with right and conscience make this claim?”) but capable, too, of snap decisions regarding human life which, to our modern sensibilities, seen cruel and arbitrary. Moore brings Henry’s seemingly contradictory attitudes clearly before us, letting us see the difficulties he faces as a monarch and as a man. Shy in his courtship, he is amazingly bold and effective in rousing his soldiers to action as evidenced in the two great motivational speeches: “Once more into the breach…” and “God for England, Harry and St. George.” A bravura performance.
Get thee to Dreamwell’s production of Henry V. It is an intelligent and effective production, a bold, successful step for the theatre of exploration.
Photo Credits: Lizzie White