Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
October 31, 2014
He had a wild and misspent youth. But when he cast off his dissolute companions, he grew up. We watched him become king in “Henry IV.” And in “Henry V,” Shakespeare shows how Harry became a leader – compassionate in his rule, but ferocious when necessary.
The crux of the play is war, specifically, the 1415 battle of Agincourt, France where, on St. Crispin’s Day, with an exhausted and bedraggled “band of brothers,” he inexplicably slew 10,000 of the massive, better-armed French forces, and lost only 25 of his own. It was a miracle – but Hal accepteded no glory; he gave it all to God. As one of the spoils of war, he claimed the French King’s daughter, Katherine. Watching this resolute commander stumble and fumble in courtship – in halting, inept English and French – makes him wonderfully human and vulnerable.
Auspiciously opening on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25, nearly 600 years after the real battle, New Fortune Theatre launched a solid and often breathtaking “Henry V,” with artistic director Richard Baird in magnificent form as Henry, ably assisted by his expert co-director, Matthew Henerson , a highlight in two roles, particularly as the loyal, loquacious and humorous Welsh captain, Fluellen . But each of the 14-member cast gets time to shine, most in multiple roles. It’s an outstanding ensemble; you can sense the camaraderie of battle – and rehearsal.
If there’s any complaint at all about this well-staged and well-acted history play, it’s the 3-hour length, but Baird prides himself on retaining 80% of the original text, whereas Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh used far less in their film versions. There’s much to be learned here – about war and leadership.
And fealty to the text was part of the success of the earlier, ‘Baird and the Bard’ effort – Poor Players. Now, like Hal, he’s grown. And he’s back with a spanking new company, seeking New Fortune. Long may it wave. And hail to its chief.
New Fortune’s “Henry V” runs through November 9, at ion theatre, in Hillcrest.
©2014 PAT LAUNER