This month, Voices Found Repertory presents an engaging staging of Shakespeare’s history Henry V. Under the direction of Alec Lachman, the faced-paced intermission-less production breezes briskly through in the form of an intimate, little pop action drama. The deeper dramatic elements shoot by with a rather large ensemble in a very, very cozy space beneath Wisconsin Avenue. What it lacks in Shakespeare’s evenly-weighted exploration of the nature of war it more than makes up for in sweeping action and resonant emotional energy.
Heroes and Villains
Like so many of Shakespeare’s scripts, Henry V has a complex constellation of elements that can be accentuated in various ways to make for pretty drastically different stagings. The production at Door Shakespeare this past summer went for an even-handed approach which featured French and British sides of the war in relatively equal light. Voices Found takes the villainy of the French found in the script and amplifies it in a slickly cool pulpy sort of a style. The villains all smoke and glide across the stage. The heroes are scrappy fighters. Even the Jake Thompson’s King Henry looks tousled and ruggedly disheveled. Thomsen’s charm (which is usually pretty impressive) reaches a kind of unassumingly overwhelming halo of coolness as a man who fate has chosen to fight the French. With the heavier end of the drama compromised by the pacing, the weightiness of Thomsen’s delivery of the classic St. Crispin’s Day Speech feels a bit casual. (To me that speech is a bit like the Hamlet’s soliloquy: really, really beautiful but absolutely impossible for any actor to do justice to. It’s so impossibly delicate that it would shatter across even the most graceful tongue.)
The French Thing
There’s a very stylishly stark contrast between the French and the British. Nowhere is this more evident than the mercurial switch made by Caroline Norton, who plays the scruffy, old Brit named Pistol and the gracious noble Queen Isabel of France.
French villains smoke, but there are heroes here too. While Alexis Furseth glides around in style with classy, sardonic shade as Montjoy and others slide around in sinister pomposity, Caroline Fossum and Thomas Sebald make an impressively noble appearance as princess Catharine and um...her lady in Waiting Alice. Alice is a guy here...Sebald is a very tall and imposing figure who carries around an intimidatingly massive semi-improvised melee weapon. So Alice here is a bodyguard who happens to speak both English and French . Traditionally the scene between Catharine and her Lady In Waiting has a completely different weight and context about it as Alice gives the princess a lesson in English that is performed almost entirely in French. Fossum and Sebald make the tender comedy of the scene glide with a sharply nuanced dynamic.
The romance that blossoms between Catharine and Henry at the end of the play is very, very difficult. The two have almost no time onstage to develop a chemistry. Thanks to a brilliantly-executed Catharine/Alice moment earlier on in the play, the Fossum is given more than enough of a chance to make a beautiful impact as a princess before launching into a romantic moment with Henry, who has a charm that is deftly wielded by Thompson. Oddly enough for an action drama, Thompson and Fossum’s romance here is one of the most compelling I can remember seeing on the small stage all year.
That’s Us: The Action
Whether onstage or onscreen, action is something that an audience has to work on. We know no one is actually in danger. We complete what the fight choreographers have developed. Fight Choreographer Connor Blankenship has done a remarkable job of developing many, many layers of action on a stage that is essentially the corner of a room in a basement. He’s making something the size of a large closet feel like it has the depth of an entire stretch of battlefield. The ensemble does a very sharp job of bringing it to the small stage. It’s such a small space that if one pair of combatants were to bump into another pair could easily create a cascade effect that would feel a bit like a cue ball breaking up a billiard balls on green felt. The fight scenes in this production have a depth to them that’s a lot of fun to watch. Blankenship himself actually looks really cool onstage. He’s got a powerful voice in the role of Exeter that feels reminiscent of screen actor Clancy Brown. With grey hair, beard and right eyepatch accompanying various other elements of his costuming, Blankenship’s Duke of Exeter seems to have (inadvertently or not) drawn inspiration from Wolfman and Perez’s pop fictional mercenary Slade Wilson. Intentional or not, the badass antiheroic look of Exeter lends texture to the production that is echoed in a ragtag visual aesthetic. Melee with archaic weapons includes rags, scarves and welding goggles. The action here is very stylish.
Sometimes It’s the Subtle Things
The small stage can draw a tremendous amount of impact from subtle juxtapositions. Rebekah Farr has great instincts in the role of the French aggressor Louis, Duke of Guyenne, the dauphin. The character is a comically petty braggart. There’s a moment when Farr takes a moment to play her deliberately distasteful on a very visceral level. She’s found smoking a cigarette and eating a bag of Cheetos® at the same time. It’s the cheapest special effect imaginable, but even though the cigarette isn’t lit and even though we’re not actually tasting the Cheetos, there’s a very distinct visceral appeal to sent, taste and tactile sensations that adds a great deal of distastefulness to Farr’s dauphin. I love little elements like that in a production.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of Henry V runs through Dec. 16th at The Underground Collaborative. For ticket reservations and more, visit Voices Found Online.