Folger Theatre Henry VBy Xandra Weaver • Feb 3rd, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Folger Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Washington DC
Through March 10th
2:30 with one intermission
$47-$68 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed January 30th, 2013
The dramatized history of Henry V makes for a triumphant play, especially when performed as honestly and skillfully as Folger Shakespeare Theatre has done. The characters seemed somehow more real and less theatrical as their stories came to life. The play begins with a declaration of war against an injurious France. The men of the British Isles gird up their loins for battle, and reveal very human emotions in doing so. A man kisses his wife goodbye and gives her a token to keep around her neck, a boy hugs his mother and marches out with tears on his cheeks, the drums of war sound and a violin plays.
The King, Henry, played by Zach Appelman, takes the biggest emotional leap of the play. The charge against the enemy, the leap into war, takes its toll on the young crown, as he weighs the glory of the kingdom against the lives of the men he may be leading to their deaths. This king is compassionate, thoughtful, and ages over the course of the play into a more confident figure.
Meanwhile, his men are a motley crew, that provide most of the comedy of the play, without resorting to mere comic relief. Their stories are real, funny, truthful and poignant. The supporting cast was truly the support that the play rested on. Each individual tale became the framework of the narrative. Of special note was Katie deBuys, playing a boy barely of age that became caught up in war, as well as the princess of France, Katherine. Both parts were portrayed so skillfully that the contrast was absolutely remarkable. The boy was grubby and confused, the princess intelligent and witty.
The staging of the play was on a set dizzyingly full of aged wooden beams, which moved at angles to open and close the environment for different scenes’ needs. All the beams were lowered into a veritable maze for the final battle, bringing the story into close quarters with the pained and tired men of the King’s forces.
Costumes were both extravagant and deftly period, taking every pain to be functional and realistic. The show became so realistic and intense as the characters hit every high and every low of the story, that one of the deaths that takes place in the play brought the story into reality somewhat. As the character was hung on a gallows, and literally dangled from a rope, the lights came up in the audience for intermission. The audience however remained frozen and silent, watching as the actors sadly lifted the still body out of the noose and carried him away. It wasn’t until the actors were gone that the audience finally came to life, so entranced had they been with the cruel reality implied by the special effect.
Together, the elements of the play were inviting, bringing the watcher easily into the story without concern for language barriers. The final element that brought the play together was the music. A lone musician, taking up a violin or once a penny whistle, narrated the story through song, music and tone. The proud, shining moment of England’s military history, brought deftly to life by The Folger players, was a triumphant representation of humanity overcoming adversity.
Shakespeare’s Henry V is one of the most compelling plays in the classical canon and remains as relevant, potent, and morally up lifting today as it did to the Elizabethan audiences. From the Laurence Olivier 1944 film, full of triumph and jingoistic national pride, to Kenneth Branagh’s darker 1989 version, made on the heels of the Falkland war, the play never fails to speak to each generation.
In 2012 alone there were four major productions of the play, ranging from as far afield as the Globe in London, Stratford Festival in Ontario, Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and Playmakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In preparation for this production I was very lucky to have seen most of them.
What is it about this play that makes it so engaging? For the creative team and myself, it is the meta-theatrical device of Shakespeare’s Chorus and his frank request that the audience collectively must use their imaginations. Without this necessary ingredient, the great epic story will not come to life. Imagination became the springboard for our production as we determined to transport the story from present day to the courts in England and France, to the epic battles and sieges of 1415, all done with a very open hand. We ask you to imagine these events, share in the experience, and never forget you are complicit in the action.
Here then, upon an open scaffold, dressed in Elizabethan clothes, 13 actors will present this play about struggle, victory, and unification, while exploring the humanity that sits beneath the surface of this play. For between the fabulous rhetoric and pageantry is a complex story full of subtlety. It is the story of a young man’s rite of passage, a story of a nation dealing with the effects of War, a story that focuses on a nation unifying behind leadership for the greater good. It deals with the human cost of war on all levels of society and touches poignant themes—nation building, patriotism, and war crimes.
Henry V is a young man capable of greatness, but brutal in effect. He seeks guidance with his personal and moral obligations, and his duties and responsibilities as a king. Perhaps, at this point moment in Washington, a play about leadership could serve as a barometer by which we can form an opinion as to where our society sits and what we should, or should not, become in the future? It may allow us to identify with the isolation leadership can produce, its burdens, and the desire to guard those who follow. Henry V is able to unify to English, the Welsh, the Irish, and the Scots, make peace with France, and put an end to ideological polarity. It was a remarkable achievement in 1415.
Above all, we hope that you will enjoy this production and that you will “Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.”
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Henry V: Zach Appelman
- Bardolph/Bishop of Ely/Williams: Louis Butelli
- Nym/Westmoreland/Burgandy: Michael John Casey
- Grey/King of France/Salisbury: Edward Christian
- Katherine of France/Boy: Katie deBuys
- Mistress Quickly/Alice/Bates: Catherine Flye
- MacMorris/Exeter: Chris Genebach
- Pistol: James Keegan
- Scroop/Constable of France: Pomme Koch
- Fluellen/Bishop of Canterbury: Cameron Pow
- Dauphin/Cambridge: Andrew Schwartz
- Chorus/Montjoy/Governor of Harfleur/Jamy/Erpingham: Richard Sheridan Willis
- Musician/Gower: Jessica Witchger
- Director: Robert Richmond
- Scenic Designer: Tony Cisek
- Costume Designer: Mariah Hale
- Lighting Designer: Andrew Griffin
- Sound Designer: Michael Rasbury
- Fight Director: Casey Kaleba
- Resident Dramaturg: Michele Osherow
- Production Stage Manager: Che Wernsman
- Assistant Technical Director: Rebekah Sheffer
- Casting Assistant: Teresa Wood
- Assistant Director: Daniel Bumgardner
- Assistant to the Director: Andrew Dahreddine
- Dialects: Gary Logan
- Assistant Stage Manager: Alicia Sells
- Production Assistant: James Kramer
- Fight Captain: Chris Genebach
- Dramaturg Assistant: Jessica Clark
- Prop Master: Becca Dieffenbach
- Assistant Set Designer: Daniel Da Cruz Pinha
- Scenic Assistant: Hannah Crowell
- Scenery Construction: Bella Faccia, Inc.
- Costume Assistant/Wardrobe Head: Adalia Vera Tonneyck
- Costume Assistant: Sara Jane Palmer
- Wardrobe: Sylvia Fuhrken
- Wig Designer: Heather Fleming
- Stitcher: Rose Barber
- Assistant Lighting Designer: Zachary Dalton
- Master Electrician: Aaron Waxman
- Light Board Operator: John Rose-Caron
- Sound Head: Matthew M. Nielson
- Sound Board Operator: Brandon Roe
Disclaimer: Folger Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9093.
Xandra Weaver has a great love of the process of theater and the creation of art that has led her into working both behind the scenes and onstage. Her career includes working for many years providing sound and lights for both professional and amateur shows as well as makeup work for a feature film. At college, she specialized in makeup to earn her theater degree, and discovered a love for directing and playwrighting. She's also been a nominee for the DC area theater WATCH awards for her work with the company of The Producers with The Arlington Players.