Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Henry V - Seattle Shakespeare Company

Henry V
Seattle Shakespeare Company
April 15 - May 9, 2010

Shakespeare’s Henry V is a famous play, and rightly so; it contains some of Shakespeare’s most rousing speeches, and is—especially in this production—a subversive portrayal of both the glories and sacrifices of war.From the moment the opening speech by Artistic Director Stephanie Shine is under way, the audience has already been unknowingly swept into the play. Russ Banham’s smart, specific direction encourages the play’s inherent intention for the audience to actively participate in thought and imagination along with the actors.

Alexandra Tavares as Katherine and Jerick Hoffer as Alice. Photo by John Ulman.

This macho world of war is enhanced by transporting this Shakespearean history to the 1960’s: an atmosphere created partly through the use of stylish suits and ornate military uniforms by costume designer Pete Rush, which encompasses a modern world that the audience can connect to. The minimal but versatile set (Jason Philips) nevertheless gives the feeling of immense distance through Andrew D. Smith's subtle lighting design and Matt Starritt's exquistite sound design—ranging from the shocking rattle of guns to atmospheric sounds that affect the audience almost without their notice.

Throughout this political battle between France and England, the actors examine the human experience, and poignantly and powerfully engage the audience in this discussion of human understanding. Evan Whitfield’s King Henry was skillfully executed, in particular his growing vulnerability, discoveries and moral questioning during the long nighttime scene at Agincourt. Truthfully, positive comments could be lavished on every player in this piece; but particularly it was the tight ensemble work and vivid connections among every character that created such a display of realism and such a strong connection to the audience.

David S Hogan as Bedford and Evan Whitfield as Henry. Photo by John Ulman.

The moments of deep realism are also balanced well with the humor in this play, which was could easily have been downplayed in favor of the tragedy and struggle. However, Banham’s direction accentuates the funny moments as much as the most deeply introspective moments in the play, in interactions such as Katherine (Alexandra Tavares)’s attempts to learn English from her maid Alice (Jerick Hoffer)’s or Fluellen (Tim Hyland)'s use of leeks as a dueling weapon. This balance of introspection and humor enforces the audience’s involvement in the lives of all the characters.

The only shortcoming to the production comes at the last moment, which is a slideshow of iconic images of war (many from the audience’s own lifetime). It emphasizes the brutality of war, yet at the same time overkills the idea to an audience which has already understood this tragedy, more deeply, through the story told by the actors. However, this is a minor weakness, made noticeable by the power and imagination of the past two hours. Banham’s direction, every actor’s skill, and the top-notch design and production team all support the audience’s emotional and active interest, and challenges the individual journey through the tragedy of war and, ultimately, personal life decisions.

Review by Andy Swanson and Kenna Kettrick

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