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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: September ::
Fahrenheit's _Henry V_
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0662.  Monday, 16 September 1996.

From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 15 Sep 1996 21:01:14 -0400
Subject:        Fahrenheit's _Henry V_

Henry V and the Dirty Dozen

Fahrenheit Theatre Company's production of _Henry V_ opened Friday, September
13, at the Fifth Third Theatre in the Aronoff Center at Seventh and Main in
downtown Cincinnati. Jasson Minadakis is the director.  The production has a
modified thrust stage (in the shape of a gigantic H) with a small upper stage
and a catwalk which extends the length of the front of the auditorium and along
with left wall. The upper stage is reached by two ladders, one at either side
of the large entry space (covered by a red aras). At the back of the upper
stage (to begin) is a large red cloth with a gold four in Roman numerals.  This
is later replaced by a black cloth with a golden V.  The gender blind casting
leads to some interesting possibilities. With thirteen actors playing 43 roles,
there is a good deal of doubling and conflation.  The costumes and props are
eclectic.

The action begins with a retrospective view of Hal (C. Charles Scheeren) at the
tavern with the charming low lifers Bardolph (Toni Rae Brotons), Nell (Kristin
Chase), Pistol (Dan Kenney), Robin (Marni Penning), and Nym (William Sweeney)
who interact with the audience before a voice over of Henry IV (_2 Henry IV
4.5.104-137) to which Hal listens in silence before ascending to the upper
level where he places the crown on his own head and the red banner is replaced
by his black banner.

Act 1, scene 1, is completely cut.  Throughout this production, Marni Penning
artfully moves from Chorus to character,  or from character to Chorus.  One
effect of this emergent Chorus is metatheatrical: the audience is recurrently
reminded both by the words and actions of the Chorus that they are watching a
play. In the first chorus Penning emerges from the tavern scene (where she
plays Robin) to introduce Henry.

Henry enters in a red gown accompanied by Scroop (Nicole Franklin-Kern) who
stands at this immediate left as he ascends the throne.  Exeter (Jim Stump) is
dressed in black with the appearance of a samurai; his head is shaved and he
wears black reflector glasses; he is obviously the king's enforcer.

When Henry is assured by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tony Rae Brotons) that
he can claim the French throne,  he throws off his red gown to reveal that he
is already in military uniform, and a party of soldiers enters from catwalk
left.  The Dauphin's gift of "Paris-balls" is greeted with good humor and
laughter.  Henry takes one of the balls and throws it to his attendants.  He is
obviously happy that the Dauphin has been foolish enough to challenge him.

In contrast to the royal preparations are the antics of Nym, Bardolph, and
Pistol, three grunts, three of the dirty dozen from the previous reign: their
tattered uniforms have "IV" on the backs, with the "I" pulled off but still
visible.  They all wear WW2 helmets. Nell is presented as sprightly, young,
svelte, and sexy, and Pistol packs a mean guitar.

In Henry's scene with the traitors, Scroop, Cambridge, and Gray, his men
overlook the cat-and-mouse game from the upper level.  Bedford's "'Fore  God,
His Grace is bold to trust there traitors" (2.2.1) is ironic since the
ever-provident Exeter has positioned two archers on the catwalk with drawn
bows.  The traitors could be cut down at any time.  In fact, Scroop refuses
immediate submission, shakes her head "no," and attempts regicide, before
giving up.  Henry embraces her, since in this production she has indeed been
his lover.

The French King (Richard Kelly) is presented as mild mannered, stoop
shouldered, a middle manager with glasses in a nondescript suit.  The Dauphin
(Colby Codding) is energetic, enthusiastic, and plucky, and when he mentions
the "Paris-balls" that he has sent Henry, he vaguely gestures toward his groin.

Perhaps one of the liveliest scenes in the production is the breach scene at
Harfleur (3.1). The dirty dozen come crashing from back stage followed by Henry
who harangues them to regroup.  Of course, the effect of his harangue is
immediately undercut by Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym who do not willing go back to
the battle.

In the parley scene at Harfleur (3.3), the vaguely comic governor (Chris
Reeder) seems quite ready to submit at the beginning of Henry's long  speech.
He tries to get Henry to stop, but finally, frustrated, gives up and listens.
The effect is to undercut Henry's speech, which, under the circumstances,
cannot be taken with total seriousness.

Katharine (Marni Penning) and Alice (Nicole Franklin-Kern) create one of the
funniest scenes in the production 3.4, the language lesson with some
ad-libbing.  Katharine roams the audience looking for appropriate hands and
"fingres."  Unfortunately (or fortunately!), Cincinnati audiences don't seem to
know why "de foot, and le count" are comic.  (I noted that a local reviewer
looked puzzled!)

Bardolph is hanged on stage at Henry's command and the scene (as well as part
one of the production) ends with his mourning over her body.

During the battle of Agincourt, Henry is wounded in the face, an incident
carried over from the battle of Shrewsbury, and the French prisoners are
slaughtered on stage, Pistol being the first to act. Fluellen (Khristopher
Lewin) is wounded in the leg. In the well-known leek beating scene, Fluellen
hobbles on a crutch as he beats Pistol with a leek. The audience loved it.

These various elements are held together by Jasson Minadakis's vision of Henry
as a man who needs something to hold on to. He experiences a series of personal
loses: the deaths of his father, Falstaff, Bardolph, Nym, and Nell; the
defection of Scroop and Pistol. And his attempts to reach out are flawed or
rejected, and perhaps only his relationship with his brother Gloucester (Lisa
Penning) is without conflict.  He wants his troops to be a band of brothers,
but he cannot quite allow Williams to get that close to him. Katharine kisses
him at play's end, but under duress.  He has only France  to hold on to, and,
as the Chorus points out,  not as a permanent legacy. Henry says that "the King
is but a man" (4.1.102), but this production casts doubt on that assertion.
Bates, Court, and Williams may huddle together for warmth, but Henry remains
alone and cold at the top.

The show runs until October 6.
 

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