“Henry VIII” reborn in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s fiery productionContinue reading.
Young king demonstrates his mettle in winningly real “Henry V”
When: Through June 15
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Info: (312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission
In many ways, “Henry V” is the clearest and most direct of Shakespeare’s history plays as it homes in on subjects in need of little explanation: The various modes of leadership; the waging of war to consolidate power; the heat of national rivalries; the carnage of the battlefield; the nature of mercy and vengeance, betrayal and loyalty, heroism and cowardice. And of course there is something else, too — the final hurdle into manhood by way of love and marriage, which, in this case, requires the crossing of cultural and linguistic boundaries.
In his straightforward, fast-moving, wholly unmannered production for the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, British actor-turned-director Christopher Luscombe (whose credits include work at London’s The Globe and in the West End, and with a double bill set for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this fall), capitalizes on all the innate virtues of Shakespeare’s play. And he effortlessly spotlights the intimate human relationships that play out against more grand scale events.
To be sure, there is no shortage of high-energy action here. But the actors’ speech — whether dialogue, monologue, deftly measured narration, or richly rendered chorale (with soldiers stationed in various parts of the theater for a richly cinematic effect)— invariably is delivered in a way that rings true and, even in the most formal situations, sounds easily colloquial. And the play’s rapidfire shifts from scenes of high tension and fevered combat (by way of Matt Hawkins’ fearsome fight choreography, to human comedy and sophisticated romance, are effortlessly done.
Leading the charge as King Henry is Canadian-bred Harry Judge, a lean, good-looking young actor who captures the unforced emotionalism and decency of a patrician soldier who feels the responsibility of his position, yet does not shy away from doing what must be done. Judge also brings truth to every interaction — whether with the treacherous Lord Scroop (Troy Demetrios, who also plays the French herald Henry respects), or the French princess, Katherine (Laura Rook, an actress of unusual charm and intelligence), who he wishes to be something more than part of the spoils of war.
James Newcomb brings a bravura touch to Captain Fluellen, the hilariously fiery Welshman with strong notions about military protocol. Greg Vinkler, Bret Tuomi and Larry Neumann, Jr. have great fun as those rogue veteran soldiers, Pistol, Bardolph and Nym. Kevin Quinn touches the heart as the Boy needlessly slain in war. And there is vivid work by Steve O’Connell, Kevin Gudahl, David Lively, Patrick Clear, Joe Flynn, Caleb Probst, Nicholas Harazin, Cody Proctor, Samuel Taylor (as the inept young Dauphin) and Sally Wingert (as Katherine’s attendant). And the work of the superb designers — Kevin Depinet (sets), Mariann S. Verheyen (costumes), Philip S. Rosenberg (lights) and Lindsay Jones (sound) — echoes Luscombe’s clarity and elegant minimalism.
One final note: It was in 1986, on the roof of Lincoln Park’s Red Lion Inn, that a production of “Henry V” became the initial step in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s founding. Little could anyone have imagined that the play’s opening line — “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention” — would be so fully realized.