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Author: Adam Goldstein

Review: Imagination is key to success of Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Henry V’

“The action in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s production of ‘Henry V’ offers audiences an unmistakable degree of wanderlust.”

The scenes skip from the royal courts of London and Paris to battlefields spread across the stretches of rural France. In chronicling one of the most decisive English military victories of the 15th century, William Shakespeare draws on a wide array of locales and atmospheres.

At the same time, the playwright doesn’t shy away from letting the audience in on the fact it’s all an illusion.

Through a chorus of a single narrator, played in director Carolyn Howarth’s current production by accomplished Colorado theater vet Sam Gregory, Shakespeare offers one of the starkest setups of his entire catalogue.

He begs pardon that the kind of monumental military feats depicted in the drama must be limited to such an “unworthy scaffold” as the stage; he pleads that the crowd tap into the full power of their imagination to properly summon the great battle between the armies of France and England. Before the epic action begins, the Chorus encourages the audience to enter into the fragile theatrical contract where disbelief is purposefully suspended and the imaginary turns true.

Howarth and a cast of dozens take up that introductory cue and run with it to a delightful degree in this imaginative and impassioned take on one of the Bard’s most glorious and approachable history plays. In lieu of the smoke and mirrors of expensive effects and constantly shifting sets, the production revels in the raw power of performance.

This style mostly succeeds thanks to consistently powerful performances from more than 20 cast members.

Benjamin Bonefant is the large ensemble’s center, leading the charge with his spot-on portrayal of King Henry V. From the initial scenes where the English king works hard to play the role of ruler and diplomat to the latter monologues delivered during bloody battle, Bonefant handles the revolving demands of the role with grace. It’s a stark difference from the carefree and irresponsible iteration of the character he played in last year’s productions of “Henry IV.”

Here, Bonefant’s performance shows all the strains and stresses of wearing the crown during warfare. The action kicks off with Henry claiming key stretches of France for England, a land grab that inevitably results in war. The conflict builds from the English army’s departure to the French village of Harfleur in the first act and reaches an apex in the decisive battle at Agincourt.

Bonefant is by turns meditative and boastful as Henry V, qualities perfectly appropriate for a young ruler on the verge of his first decisive victory. Bonefant finds able support in his performance thanks to a constantly revolving crew of actors, many of whom take on the mantles of several characters…

Read Adam Goldstein’s full review in the Daily Camera.

(Above: photo by Jennifer Koskinen)