By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring John P. Keller
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL
Into the breach once more; all for a muse of fire on this Saint Crispin’s Day! Shakespeare’s “Henry the Fifth” is not only one of his most active plays, it drips with snappy lines, clearly motivated action and avoids the confusing subplots that appear elsewhere. Young Henry (Keller) takes the throne and plans to claim part of France through a female dynastic line. The French naturally object, claiming the obscure Salic Law forbids this. Never mind the legalities; a case of tennis balls from the French king arrives implying Henry is a frivolous youth. He’ll show them and invades taking Harfleur with some difficulty. His small force is weak and ill, and he heads for Calais for refuge. The French nobility sees this as potential for great sport; they all show up in their finery only to be slaughtered by the English long bows. Henry get the princess, most of France and one of Shakespeare’s best monologs: the St Crispin’s Day speech.
Sent on a wooden replica of the Globe, the eight actors all play multiple roles. Geoffrey Kent presents himself as the very tall Duke of Exeter and as a memorable Icelandic soldier Nym; his beard and excellent presence emanates nearly as much manliness as Henry. Stephen Lima makes his debut on the Shakes’ stage as Henry’s older brother Bedford and as an incomprehensible Scots army engineer; his trademark mean streak is suppressed for the good of the story. Brad De Planch plays mainly the comic roles, but does get himself hung in one scene. This was troublesome and violates the film maxim of “never kill the kid, never kill the dog.” Kate Ingram plays the king of France as well as tutor to the French princess; her best lines come as she helps the princess (Sarah Caroline Billings) learn to mispronounce body parts in English. Billings also fills in as the Herald; she propels the plot and looks nice in her blue velvet valet outfit standing out in the sea of greys and browns. Stephen Watson takes his best role as Fluellen the sycophantic Welsh sapper. Finally Steepen Paul Johnson plays foot soldier Pistol, his character is working another show down the hall acted by a different man. Keller is not only the earnest Henry but also the foppish Dauphin; he even excels as his own nemesis.
There’s plenty of swash, buckle and humor here; the tennis ball scene dumps the case of balls in the front row’s laps thanks to a slightly tilted stage. Henry is a very manly young king, his belt swing below his knees and the Princess’s reluctance to marry him is mystifying. Tonight the battle scenes and preparations were by far the best elements, the romances at the end where Henry awkwardly woos feels forced: there’s not much chemistry there but then this is a dynastic marriage and as long as a few boys pop out, they can each live in different countries. The end was also a bit anachronistic; images of WW2 and the Vietnam Memorial Wall close out the show along with Edwin Starr’s “War! Huh, Yeah, What is it good for?” It’s good for something, or we wouldn’t keep doing it and telling stories about it. Here is a strong, fast moving production with heart and soul and lots of manly camaraderie.
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