OREM — If there’s one thing I appreciate in modern productions of Shakespeare, it is a theater company’s ability to cut the script. As Shakespeare once wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” It is important to acknowledge, I believe, that today’s audiences are unused to sitting at a play for four hours, so the omission of unnecessary plot points and dialogue can not only make the bard’s work more accessible, but also refreshing.
Henry V tells the story of the Prince Hal of Henry IV Parts I and II coming into his own and taking up the crown of Britain, despite naysayers from his own country and France who doubt his ability to successfully rule a country after his somewhat irresponsible youth. Henry, however, is about to prove them very much mistaken in his campaign against the bombastic French.
Though Henry V deals with some weighty material and hugely famous and rousing speeches (“Once more unto the breech~” and “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!”), Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s chief goal seems to be to entertain. There is a great sense of fun one experiences when viewing their productions, right from the beginning when a folk band acts as the Greenshow, warming up the audience with delightful music. The actors, as well, are determined to delight from the moment they introduce the show, encouraging the audience to get involved in the story, to cheer, to jeer, and to talk back to the characters. As the show itself begins with the prologue, there is a fantastic energy that carries through the production, brought by enthusiastic and earnest performances, high comedy, and quick, deliberate blocking. There is no time wasted in a Grassroots production.
As the eponymous Henry, Jason Sullivan presented a fresh take on the young monarch that I had hitherto not experienced. Many actors play the role as bold and saucy, but Sullivan’s Henry was supremely real and relatable, from his sweet and earnest delivery of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech—which gave me chills—to his wooing of Katherine of France, which was done with endearing awkwardness and comedy. It was interesting to see the role played with a certain level of humility, while managing to rouse the audience to cheer for his conquest of the French.
There were many wonderful comedic performances in the play as well, but the two that stood out the most were Alexandra Russell and Jessica Myer, both of whom played various characters. They started off the play as French ambassadors, presenting Henry with some mocking tennis balls from the French dauphin. Russell donned a mustache and spoke in an exaggerated and comedically woeful French accent, spicing up what otherwise could have been a dull expositional scene. Later in the play, Russell also played Katherine’s nursemaid, Alice, giving the French princess a lesson in English, which was lightly and artfully played, accompanied by some wonderful music played on the mouth organ. It takes a certain level of capability to create humor in a scene that is not spoken in the native tongue of the audience, but Russell and her scene partner Charlotte Martell Andrews managed to execute it with grace. My favorite character of Myer’s was Fluellen, a Scottish captain with a patriotic streak and a rallying spirit. Her accent was ferocious and her facial expressions fantastically funny, particularly in the scene where she and Henry conduct a postmortem on the battle while the Scottish national anthem plays in the background.
One of the most impeccable casting decisions (which, of course, was decided amongst the players themselves, as there is no director), was Dallin Halls as the Dauphin. He was absolutely perfect the role, playing with snide facial expressions, impetuous and shrill delivery of lines, and an overall petulance that made his character distinctly obnoxious. One scene that encapsulated Halls’s abilities wonderfully was a moment in which the Dauphin realizes that he is losing the battle, and he calls his soldiers to him in a performance befitting a professional actor, playing levels of prideful and panicked against each other with prodigious skill.
There were some aspects of the production that were of particular enjoyment to me, such as the commedia dell’arte take on the scenes with Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol, complete with stylized masks and melodramatic acting. As Pistol, Brooks Lindberg displayed some wonderful physicality, bending his body into overwrought positions and shuffling across the stage in a hyperbolic portrayal of the elderly character. Another aspect I enjoyed was the Chorus, played by Kailey Azure Green, whose sparkling energy punctuated the story quite nicely.
I always have a fantastic time at a Grassroots Shakespeare Company production, and I am pleased to say that Henry V was no exception. I definitely encourage anyone who would like to have a bit of fun with theater to attend this summer show.