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Henry V muted and uneven at Seattle Shakespeare
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Henry V muted and uneven at Seattle Shakespeare

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Henry V
Seattle Shakespeare
Company
Through May 9


The current production of Henry V at Seattle Shakespeare has aspects to like, and aspects that underwhelm. Director Russ Banham overlays the Vietnam War era on this play about war, which tries to emphasize its horrors and empty justifications. But while the costuming itself is crisp and beautifully made (by Pete Rush), it makes no real impact on the actual play - it's just how the cast is dressed, rather than helping illuminate any particular aspects of Shakespeare's meaning. In fact, when they talk of swords and then pull out pistols, it's a bit awkward.

Normally strong actor Evan Whitfield plays King Henry V. However, he brings little charisma to the character, which calls out for someone who might believably draw even common men into a fight, despite their lack of understanding or desire for what they're fighting over. Shakespeare imbues a lot of dramatic falsehoods to juice up this tale. He tells of 5,000 English soldiers defeating tens of thousands of French soldiers against outrageous odds. He has Henry V walk, disguised, among the common men the night before his decisive victory, learning about how people really feel about the king - gee, a Shakespearean edition of Undercover Boss. Perhaps Shakespeare was giving some tips to Queen Elizabeth the oblique way, by telling her about how the common soldier felt about King Henry, which could be similar to how they felt about Elizabeth. Elizabeth had to wage a lot of war in her time, as well.

The play is best as a character drama, where a young, untried king learns how to rule as he tests his army against his foe. The reasons he went to war in the first place are as unreasonable as many of the wars fought in history: he wanted to "own" France - or at least a vast section of it. France and England fought many wars over that area of land over hundreds of years. This production does not highlight that growth.

Set designer Jason Phillips provides a clean but nondescript setting with various height levels to act on, though there's nothing particularly '60s - or even Shakespearean - about it. Lighting designer Andrew D. Smith gives better support to the moods on the stage.

A generally solid cast, including David S. Hogan, Marcel Davis, and Tim Hyland, support the English court. Patrick Lennon takes on both young soldier and messenger with aplomb. The trio of Gordon Carpenter, Joseph McCarthy, and Russell Hodgkinson create the "grunts," who have to go along with the brass no matter how they feel about it, though the comedy is muted. Jerick Hoffer steals the show both as a woman, Mistress Quickly, and as a manservant to a woman in the French court. Alexandra Tavares entrances as Princess Katherine, with fluent French and energetic flirting, and Richard Nguyen Sloniker mugs it up as the Dauphin, giving the audience a bit of relief.

For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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