Henry V in Westerly

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Blogging about art should be a wide-ranging experience. I resolved long ago not to limit myself to the issues and diversions of the art world, the upper-crust of creative experience. Most people get their usual exposure to art outside of major museums or Broadway productions. Rather, I set myself the task of now and then reporting on arts events of a more modest nature, closer to home. So a while back I blogged about a local art fair, and today I turn to writing about Shakespeare, as staged in Wilcox Park, Westerly, Rhode Island, by Westerly’s The Colonial Theater. This is the third year I’ve seen their Shakespeare productions, but the first in which a serious play is presented – in this case, Henry V. While Benedict Cumberbatch has no reason to worry (has he played Henry yet?) it was a fine evening in warm summer air, and a nearly full moon overhead. The play’s good too; I’d keep an eye on this Shakespeare guy. He might make something of himself.

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Shakespeare is made by the actors, so here’s to it:

Henry (Colin Ryan) too often recited his lines rather than said them. You could feel the line breaks as they came. He did reach back for some extra effort when it came to major speeches, with good results. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” (Act 3, scene 1) was spoken not as some noble call, but as a hurried exhortation to a group of winded and staggering soldiers. This worked very well. The St. Crispin’s Day speech (Act 4 scene 3) was delivered with touches of emotion, an occasional catch in the voice, that showed how deeply the King felt the moment. While not a great performance overall, it had enough in it to serve the evening.

Ancient Pistol (Rudy Sanda) was young and slender, and surprisingly adorned with an accent more reminiscent of Boston than anything English. Sanda also appeared as Orleans, sans accent. Mistress Quickly (Marion Markham) had some New York in her voice, which she shed when playing Alice, the French lady-in-waiting. So long as we’re discussing accents, Katherine (Meghan LaFlam) and Alice played their lines in French with ease and vigor, though I’m not sufficiently fluent in the language to critique them more than that.

Bardolph was played by an actor and local radio personality, Mark Sullivan, whose line readings were only adequate, but at least he looked the part, being shaggy and somewhat florid of face. I could easily imagine him as one of the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or a noble Roman in Julius Caesar.

The Chorus (David Schmittou) doubled as Mountjoy, which I did not realize until partway through the play. Schmittou was the most energetic Chorus in my experience, jumping about the stage perhaps a little more than necessary, while his Mountjoy was a picture of reserved, gentlemanly calm. The French King and court all did well, as did the supporting nobles of the English court.

The most affecting moment in this production did not come from any King or Dauphin, but from a character known only as Boy (Alec Chattin), who delivered his long speech from Act 3, scene 2, “As young as I am, I have observed these three swashers” with directness and lack of self-consciousness, giving it a sincere immediacy that blew away the artifice of the theater. For a moment, we felt we were listening to his thoughts, instead of an actor speaking someone else’s words.

Being staged on an all-purpose set, with little, and often no, furnishings, made for a more genuinely Shakespearean air, more like the simple stagings of the Globe Theater in Shakespeare’s day. The fight choreography, by Norman Beauregard, was stylized but effective. Director Harland Meltzer kept things moving, and plays the comedy scenes very broadly without harming the serious ones. While children might be baffled by the occasionally complex language, there’s enough to please everyone, even if only at times. Shakespeare aimed his plays at a broad audience, and his aim is still true.

The play runs at 8 pm, every day except Monday, until August 9.

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One thought on “Henry V in Westerly

  1. Pingback: A Slice of Ham(let) | Art Matters

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