Review: In Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Henry V, Benjamin Bonenfant Rules
“It’s Benjamin Bonenfant’s magnificent Henry V that makes this a can’t-miss show…He’s enthralling to watch, and his Henry is so original, right, tough, supple and intelligent that the role becomes entirely new — and deserving of a place with the major interpretations of the past.”
At the play’s beginning, Henry determines to invade France on ambiguous grounds having to do with primogeniture and succession. Also tennis balls. Much of the play deals with war in all its aspects, as both the nobility and the common people — personified by comic stumblers Pistol, Nym and Bardolph — face battle in France. There are also captains representing Wales, Ireland and Scotland. While the latter are pure national stereotypes, Fluellen, the Welsh captain, is as brave and competent as he is ridiculous. Through the mouths of these fighters, war is examined in all its complexities of patriotism, privilege, courage, cowardice, cruelty and conquest. “If the cause be not good,” one of the soldiers says to a disguised Henry, “the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make.”
The battle scenes in this production lack the excitement that would give such themes the vibrating intensity they deserve — particularly now that the United States seems trapped in a cycle of endless war. Perhaps it takes a wooden O with more technical resources than the university theater to create a convincing battlefield. And I have to argue with some of the costumes — particularly the jacket that seems to half-smother the Chorus and the cheesy Union Jack-striped top that Henry wears after his victory.
But the direction is good, and the acting carries the day. Gregory puts an intriguing stamp on the role of the Chorus, Lawrence Hecht is perfect as Fluellen, and Bjorn Arvidsson’s Archbishop of Canterbury manages to be sincerely insincere as he tells Henry exactly what he wants to hear. Martha Harmon Pardee is effective as Hostess Nell describing the death of Falstaff (whose presence looms large even though he never appears on stage here) and does a nice turn as waiting lady to Princess Katherine, charmingly played by Jenna Bainbridge. It’s Benjamin Bonenfant’s magnificent Henry V that makes this a can’t-miss show, though. He’s enthralling to watch, and his Henry is so original, right, tough, supple and intelligent that the role becomes entirely new — and deserving of a place with the major interpretations of the past.
Read the full review by Westword’s Juliet Wittman.
(Photo: Jennifer Koskinen)