Shakespeare’s Henry V famously begins “O for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.” The Chorus is aware of the size of the play, and the disparity of the actor’s capacity for truth in that regard, longing for great things to make the play great. In this play, Barabbas Theatre achieves greatness through subtlety and simplicity. and Shakespeare has the Chorus echo this idea of humility and unworthiness throughout the play.
Kevin O Connell directs this wildly imaginative production. The play begins while the audience is seated with a pantomime. A drawing board reads “Henry IV” as robbers steal from a couple of fools, two young men duel, and one takes the crown from the dying king. The Chorus emerges and erases the I on the drawing board, beginning Henry V. Each actor plays several different parts, as the Chorus states “into a thousand parts divide one man.”
…wildly imaginative production.
Vince Eisenson is the eponymous Henry V, formerly Prince Hal. Eisenson is gentle and mild, with an undercurrent of danger befitting a king. He also manages to throw in aspects of the character’s early “wildness.” His speeches are engrossing, and particular highlights include the initially light “Tennis-ball speech” and the always powerful “Once more into the fray.” He comically portrays the Dauphin Prince, who is more concerned with how good his horse is than anything else.
Lizzi Albert appears as the Chorus, comically reminding us throughout the play that we are unable to show a battlefield and the great expansion of time between the scenes. Albert is affable as the Chorus and hilarious as Nym, mixing her metaphors, picking fights and running away from battles. She also plays the Ambassador to France and the Constable as one, and this is where her physical comedy shines through.
Kevin Dykstra plays Exeter, the King’s austere uncle, and the hilarious Bardolph. He manages to create completely different characters for each. Similarly, Peter Holdway plays Fluellen, the humorously short-tempered Welshman and Captain Gower. A few highlights of Holdway’s performance is Fluellen’s reaction to Pistol making fun of his leeks, and when he plays the Frenchman that is ransomed by Pistol.
Elana Michelle plays the French princess Catherine. Rachel Mantueffel plays Alice, Catherine’s French maid who attempts to teach her lady French. Both actors excel in the French, finding ways to make the comedy and the content shine through. Alternately, Mantueffel provokes empathy as the traitor Cambridge and Michelle brilliantly plays the Boy who attends Nym, Bardolph and Pistol.
Seth Rosenke excels as Pistol, a source of comic relief throughout the play. He shines in the moment when Pistol is confronting him about the leeks and the moment when Pistol is robbing the old man.
The costumes, provided by Silver Spring Stage and Jill Goodrich, were simple stage blacks and accessories, that left the actors room to portray these larger than life characters. The set likewise, was a group of chairs and stools, that became everything from a barricade, to a throne room, to battlements.
The Audience has to confess that we are not monarchs, just as much as the Barabbas Theatre Company are not princes, or “muses of fire.” Eastman Studio at Gallaudet is hardly the wooden O of Shakespeare’s globe. But it’s productions like this one that prove that a world of kings and princes can be played before a group of hot, tired festival goers. This show made us the monarchs for which it asks, if only for a moment.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 13 and up.
H5x7 by Barabbas Theatre Company, Gallaudet University, Eastman Studio Theatre, Florida Ave NE & 8th St NE, Washington DC, 20002. For tickets click here.