Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 23, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Henry V

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 11, 2018
by Stuart W. Gamble

The wages of war run high and nowhere in the oeuvre of William Shakespeare is that seen more than in the saga of his titular king. A follow-up to the epic “Henry IV parts one and two,” “Henry V” explores the darker side of war with less comedy (mostly provided by the iconic buffoon Falstaff, whose death occurs at the top of this play) and focuses more on the moral choices of leaders and the consequences brought on to their people.

King Henry (Stephen Louis Grush) must decide whether to wage war on France to reclaim French soil that he believes rightly belongs to him. Urged on by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felicity Jones Latta) and the memory of his father, Henry decides to go forward to battle with France despite the pleadings and bribery of the King of France (Nafeesa Monroe). With much strife and hardship, including the loss of his beloved cousin, England reigns victorious leaving its enemy with massive casualties.

As directed by Hartford Stage’s Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson, “Henry V” is pared down to its essentials: actors and text. The stage has been reconfigured into the round for this production, much to its advantage. Actors, particularly Peter Francis James, whose velvety voice clearly paints the time and place of the action, speak directly to the audience. Grush’s Henry also boldly addresses the audience as if to the Nobles who question his actions.

Photo by T. Charles Erikson
The cast is a perfect blend of actors of both genders performing various roles. Baron Vaughn stands out among the rest. His sharp wit and fluid delivery greatly liven up the play’s somber tone. Vaughn’s turns as Mistress Quickly and Fluellen display his brilliant grasp of Shakespeare’s language. Kate Forbes portrays various French officials with equal assurance. Anthony Michael Lopez nicely plays the waspish Dauphin. Karen Aldridge’s Duke of Exeter is stoically loyal to Henry. Miles Anderson as pistol has some mildly comic moments. Evelyn Spahr’s Anglo-challenged Katherine and Latta’s Alice (mis)interpretations bring much needed laughter. Grush’s Henry is deeply intense, much like a David facing his Goliath.

Set Designer Nick Vaughan’s work consists solely of a floor-inlaid map of England and France, leaving space for actors to interact. Beth Goldenberg’s costumes are contemporary fatigues and uniforms in green, brown, and grey (Team Henry) and military blues (Team France). Stephen Strawbridge (Lighting Designer) and Matt Hubbs (Sound Designer) pointedly fill the space with flashing cannon blasts and smoke suggesting the fierceness of battle.