Monday, June 29, 2009

Late Henry

I know it is late to be doing so, but I’d like to wax a little poetic about Richmond Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” What a fine production! As I wrote in a recent Facebook status, the final scene between Phil Brown’s Henry and Sarah Johnson Cole’s Katherine features what may be the two best looking actors I’ve ever seen wooing each other on stage. And that’s a couple hours into a show featuring bracing fight choreography, stirring dramatics, and robust comedy.

Mr. Brown gave a firey performance with some nice attenuation around the burdens of leadership. But perhaps most impressive – and highly unusual, I would think – is the pay-off for those who have watched his Henry mature over the past three years. Being able to build a real familiarity with an actor in a role over three epic performances is a truly remarkable gift that Richmond Shakespeare gave us with their production of this history cycle. Brown’s Henry V could stand alone but his accomplishment is much more amazing considering the entirety of it.

Something I think I have said in this space before is that often the true indication of a quality of a production is how quickly the talent drops off when you get past the lead roles. Another great thing about this Henry V was that the quality was consistent, all the way down to the charming youngster playing the “boy,” Brian Walter. A high school kid handling a Shakespearian sililoquy in such a grand production – and doing it so well – is quite an accomplishment.

Other supporting stand-outs were Jamie Rees, who is quite amusing in the early scenes, and Brandon Crowder as the prancing Dauphin (though I liked him in Midsummer better where his fey shtick was balanced with other facets of his prodigious talent). Joseph Sultani has some smoldering good looks to go with fine acting chops that I’d like to see exploited more in the future. And even Bob Jones, who I kind of thought was going to be a brief distraction as Fluellen, actually gets quite a bit of stage time and shows great comedic ability.

I can’t say enough about the fight choreography by Vanessa Passini, which goes well beyond the usual “swing-and-duck” stuff that is not uncommon, even in fairly accomplished productions. The battle scenes conjured up much mayhem, a great counterpoint to all of the high-falutin’ language being tossed around.

Even with Phil Brown’s shirtless scene early on, I have to say that the scene I’ll remember most vividly from this production is the Ms. Cole and Jacquie O’Connor translating body parts from French into English. Katherine’s singular pronounciation of “de nails,” “de fingras,” and “delbow” managed to be both hilarious and totally realistic and just one of many facets that made this production a finely cut jewel. Many congrats to director James Bond and the whole cast and crew!


Anonymous said...

"Even Bob Jones" - Even Bob Jones?!?! Bob Jones was the MAN. There were certainly many other fine performances, and I couldn't have asked for a better Henry, but Bob Jones did so much with that part - had me in the palm of his hand. Thanks Richmond Shakespeare for a fine production of a play I know well. I played The Boy in college, and yes, the young man did a fine job. Hopefully, Mr. Bond didn't go all method on the English army like my professor did in college, and make them do an overnight camping trip improv, in which I had to carry everything. . .

- Jennifer Frank

eraserhead said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment, but to forget Grant Mudge's 13 (count 'em)appearances is to miss the essence of Richmond Shakespeare.

Can't wait for Hamlet--we already know how fantastic Midsummer will be in the open air.

Frank Creasy said...

I really gotta go with Jennifer on this one. There was much to enjoy in this entertaining production, and kudos to Phil in particular for a great job in such a demanding role - what a mammoth undertaking. Besides, any man who looks like him really SHOULD be on stage and on camera! He also showed great comedic skills in the courtship scene with Sarah. Great job all around.

But for my money, Bob Jones was the true master in this production. I'd never heard of this guy, never seen him before, but for anyone who has a sense of Shakespearean verse and how to best hit the operative words, employ the rhythm of the verse to greatest effect, and so on and so on with all the demands of a Shakespearean text...this guy REALLY knows his stuff. Moreover, his self awareness is very apparent in his characterization: One thing that made his character both compelling AND hilarious is how his Fluellen took himself so seriously. He was dead earnest in instructing others on how to behave, and from the character's humor great comedy was born. This is a sign of a terrific actor: One who employs the text and the characterization to greatest effect rather than chewing the scenery with overblown movements and farcical actions. He employed minimal movement to maximum advantage and audience delight. Watching him was a like a master class in Shakespeare.

Let's hope we see a lot more of Bob in Richmond, I'm hoping to learn more (and be entertained as well) from watching him!

Anonymous said...

Bob Jones rocks!

I also loved the opening---Jerusalem song. It was fantastic, perfect, given the end of the IV.two the earlier year. Year ago.