By William Shakespeare
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Mary Lou Rosato, Broadway veteran and longtime co-head of the CalArts acting program, has directed an energetic and exciting staging of Shakespeare’s rousingHenry V at the Off-Off-Broadway American Theatre of Actors, under the aegis of Quisqueya Productions.
Henry V is the fact-based history of a young English king who unites his nation and leads his badly outnumbered army “once more unto the breach” to win an unlikely and smashing victory over their traditional foes, the French. This limited-run production takes liberties with the script to tighten the action and focus on the stirring speeches and the most vivid moments of character.
Rosato and the 19-member cast seem to relish the many messenger scenes filled with lustily-phrased defiance and counter-defiance, and the testosterone-soaked battle scenes that send the two armies galloping through the aisles and up and down ramps and staircases on the two-level set.
Among those who deserve special mention are Joe Penczak as a steely Exeter, Julian Evans as a preening Dauphin, and Mark Guerette as a comic Fluellen. Emma Elle Paterson captures the audience’s heart as the sweet French princess who, in anticipation of the Henry’s victory, is trying to fast-track learning to speak English. Laris Macario shows steely resolve as the title monarch, while also giving some hints of the unruliness his character had shown in the play’s prequels, Henry IV parts 1 and 2.
The only scenes in Henry V that seem out of place are Mistress Quickly’s accounts of the health of the star of those two plays, the character of Falstaff, who remains offstage in this play (Shakespeare’s choice). If you don’t know who Falstaff was, this production isn’t going to tell you.
The familiar Bard quotes—“Oh for a muse of fire,” “A little touch of Harry in the night,” and the stirring, noble St. Crispin’s Day speech (“we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) are given ample due in this low-budget but high-ambition production.
Henry V ran through February 24 at the American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, in Manhattan.