Story: King Henry V of England, the former Prince Hal who assumed the throne upon the death of his father Henry IV in 1413, looks upon France as his next conquest. While preparing for war he deals with a trio of conspirators hired by the French to assassinate him.
Henry leads his troops into battle in France and defeats the French at Harfleur, to the surprise of the superior French army. Henry is cut off, though, in his attempt to return to England to regroup and is forced to lead his 5,000 troops against a French force of 60,000 at Agincourt. Somehow, Henry prevails, losing less than three dozen of his own soldiers in the process.
Then, following some clumsy attempts at communicating his desires, he takes Princess Katherine, daughter of King Charles VI and Queen Isabel of France, as his bride to solidify his claim to the French throne.
Highlights: Henry V marks the conclusion of one of Shakespeare’s history tetralogies that also includes Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. Together the four works described to audiences in Elizabethan times the tumultuous, consecutive reigns of three English monarchs in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, 200 years before the Bard’s era.
As part of its ambitious 2014 season, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting a condensed version of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 in repertory with a presentation of Henry V. That’s a staggering number of lines that their blended casts memorize and interpret in two presentations spanning nearly six hours. Beyond that impressive accomplishment, though, are two engaging productions that take turns offering rousing battle scenes as well as copious comic moments.
While Henry V doesn’t match the exhilarating level of work in its companion piece, it’s nonetheless a satisfying rendition of history, Shakespeare style.
Other Info: Although Henry V doesn’t showcase a character such as young Prince Hal, who matures and changes dramatically in the course of three hours, it does employ its own effective theatrical devices to move the story along. Shakespeare utilizes a Chorus, played magnificently by Anderson Matthews in director Bruce Longworth’s adaptation, to explain the goings-on to the Art Hill audience from various perches on Scott Neale’s expansive and nearly bare scenic design.
The lack of blandishments on that set allows the large cast to move freely across the performance area and also to bring dynamism to Paul Dennhardt’s explosive fight choreography. As with Henry IV, those battles are enhanced by composer Gregg Coffin’s stirring music, supplemented with Rusty Wandall’s sound design.
Costumes designed by Dorothy Marshall Englis handsomely represent the era. John Wylie’s lighting can pinpoint the Chorus or bathe entire battle scenes. Meg Brinkley adds props that delineate specific scenes and Suzanne Mills displays her talents as voice and text coach, even if Tony DeBruno’s dialect as Captain Fluellen seems to move around the United Kingdom.
Jim Butz is properly pensive and serious as the playboy-turned-political powerhouse Henry V, while DeBruno, Drew Battles, Gary Glasgow and Andrew Michael Neiman are suitably loyal captains in the royal army, namely Fluellen, Gower, Jamy and Macmorris, respectively.
Michael James Reed provides counsel to the king as his uncle, the Duke of Exeter, and James Hesse reprises his role as Henry V’s younger brother, John. Reginald Pierre again is smooth in the role of his cousin, the Earl of Westmoreland.
Chauncy Thomas stands out as a swaggering soldier in Henry’s army who unknowingly makes a wager with a mysterious visitor to his camp who actually is Henry in disguise, but whose valor rescues him from further embarrassment. Thomas also plays one of the conspirators, who with Charles Pasternak and Andrew Michael Neiman meet an untimely death.
Jerry Vogel is deliciously devious as the wastrel Pistol, an associate of the late knight Sir John Falstaff, who cheats, steals and lies his way through the French campaign until his day of reckoning arrives. Alex Miller and Gary Glasgow portray Pistol’s pals Bardolph and Nym, whose lives change much more abruptly, while Kari Ely reprises her role as the fiery and outspoken Mistress Quickly.
Dakota Mackey-McGee plays Katherine, who tests the audience’s knowledge of French in a scene with Lady Alice (Kelley Weber), as the latter attempts to teach her English. Joneal Joplin and Ely portray Charles VI and Isabel and Pasternak is their son, Louis the Dauphin.
Rounding out the cast smoothly in a number of other supporting roles are Eric Dean White, Antonio Rodriguez, Mason Conrad, Dan Haller and Leo Ramsey.
Henry V lacks the power and persuasion of Henry IV, and drags noticeably in the weary courtship scene just before its conclusion. Still, the price is right, and under Longworth’s careful direction Henry V makes for a memorable evening under the stars.
Play: Henry V
Group: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Venue: Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park near the Art Museum
Dates: May 29, 31, June 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 15
Tickets: Free admission
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of David Levy