Shakespearing #20.1 by John King
Another Interlude, This Time Out of Sequence
A Review of Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 2015 production of Henry V
One of the ironies of the current season of offerings at Orlando Shakespeare Theater is that in the spacious Margeson Theater, Merry Wives features the hijinks of Falstaff in a 1950s domestic setting, while the epic sweep of Henry V is being enacted in the snug spot of the Goldman Theater, separated from the Margeson only by a soundproofed wall.
If Falstaff shakes the water from his ears and listens really closely, he might be able to hear the gratifying sounds of his friends mourning his death in the history play next door.
Jim Helsinger’s direction takes its cues from Shakespeare’s own meta-theatrics, explicitly drawing on the audience to buy into the make-believe necessary to make “this wooden O” of the little stage hold throne rooms, taverns, the ocean, and the towns and fields of France. Bob Phillip’s set design was made entirely of untreated wooden planks, making one think not only of Shakespeare’s simple stage in the Renaissance, but also the barns of Andy Hardy movies, and that can-do madcap spirit infects the performance with a level of fun one seldom associates with a history play, especially one in which Falstaff dies off stage.
Before the play is over, all of the actors will portray the narrators of the chorus, either singly or simultaneously, in ways that demand the audience imaginatively invest in the creation of the artifice. In a crowd scene, the audience is among the “band of brothers.” Adding to the intricate sense of artifice is the fact that the actors use American accents for the chorus, but use appropriate English accents and variants or French for the characters they play, with sometimes a bizarre amount of doubling. For example, John P. Kellar plays both the emotionally overtaxed Henry and the simpering, foolish Dauphin, the latter to comic excess.
I sometimes wondered if perhaps the comic turns this production finds in Henry V might be somehow contrary to the spirit of the text, but ultimately I sincerely found those comic interpretations funny, which almost renders the question moot. I also enjoyed that the major through-line of the production seems to be fun, as a counterbalance to the somber, sublime experience that is too much in the minds of Shakespeare fans due to Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film of Henry V. Enough with the pre-game bravado of the Battle of Agincourt speech. This production gives us Shakespeare in his full bathos, the high and the low, the aspirational and the confessional, the spiritual and the slapstick.
Since Merry Wives finishes its run before Henry V, I do hope Falstaff will conceal himself one night in the Goldman, and enjoy the show as much as I did.
Henry V runs from February 18 – March 22, 2015. Get tickets here.
John King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.