By William Shakespeare; directed by Jenna Ware
Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble Ave., Lenox
June 18-Aug. 23
Tickets are $24.50 and up, shakespeare.org.
I was happy to be invited to attend opening night of Shakespeare & Company’s “Henry V” last Friday night. Even in the rain, the drive to and through Lenox is lovely, and the Shakespeare & Company grounds are gorgeous! The short walk to the parking lot is illuminated with twinkly-lit paths by a lovely river. There is an expansive concessions area and plenty of comfortable seating both indoors and out.
“Henry V” is one of Shakespeare’s few works that is based on factual events.The plot revolves around Henry V’s real-life, famed Battle of Agincourt and the events leading up to and following this epic battle. This tale chronicles the infamous journey of a disaffected prince to legendary king, when a man sets out to repair his broken nation, prove his worth, and win the affections of the French Princess.
Cast as Henry, it is clear that Ryan Winkles is a talented actor. This is effectively demonstrated in his scenes with Katherine and anytime he gets softly and quietly emotional. I thought his overall performance was good, but mild. But please do not let that keep you from seeing this production – which is fabulous. At the curtain call of opening night, the audience jumped to their feet with loud cheers. And for one really good reason; this ridiculously talented ensemble stole the show!
Leading the ensemble is the sublime Jonathan Croy as King of France, Pistol and Duke of Westmoreland. The outstanding talent displayed by Jonathan Croy amazed me. What can I say? It was simply an honor to behold.
Keeping up with Croy is the dynamic David Joseph as the Dauphin, the Prince of France; Nym; Bishop of Canterbury and Duke of York. His work is so fabulous that the audience broke into applause for him in the middle of a scene — another display of remarkable talent.
Caroline Calkins in the role of Katherine, the Princess of France, impressed me. Her French-language scenes are especially delightful. I also enjoyed Sarah Jeanette Taylor anytime she was on stage.
In addition to delighting us on stage, Taylor choreographed the battle scene. Utilizing dance and lighting, the battle scene is extraordinary – especially in the intimate setting of the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. This effect as well as eerie drum heard in the theater before and after the show help set the mood and make the evening quite magical.
The set and props were minimal. This production of “Henry V” is a lovely example of how this work was originally presented (with the exception of the casting of actual women). You are asked to use your imagination. Jenna Ware’s brilliant direction and use of space make it quite easy to do so. The changes of scenery and costumes are flawless. The scenery consists of a few wooden crates, some chairs, a plank of wood and some colorful fabric. The music is lovely, each of the actors can sing and contribute to the captivating a cappella harmonies.
I left the theater questioning whether “Henry V” was a comedy, not a drama. I think this was because the comedic moments of this production were too delicious, and perhaps a little bit due to Winkles’ under-dramatic Henry. In fact, the only negative thing to point out about this production is the imbalance of a mild portrayal of the main character against a show-stopping ensemble.
Henry V is widely studied in high schools so please do take your teens to this production. I noticed in the program that the Shake & Co.’s “Riotous Youth” two-week summer program for kids aged 7-15 is doing “Henry V” this July 13-24. f your child has any interest in the stage, this program comes highly recommended. Call (413) 637-1199, ext. 172 to see if you can get your young thespian a spot!
Another great way to introduce your kids to Shakespeare is by attending the upcoming “Shakespeare and the Language that Shaped a World,” a 60-minute family-friendly production described as a “fast paced mash-up of scenes, facts, sword-play and quotes from Shakespeare’s greatest plays is an accessible introduction to the Bard and fun for both the young and the young at heart.” Free for students, performances run outdoors under the Rose Footprint Tent July 10 through Aug. 15 at 5:30 p.m.