Reduxion Theatre has once again given us brilliant theatre in an unusual way. This time, they have chosen to do one of Shakespeare’s history plays in period attire and style—for the most part.
Director Tyler Woods has cast Andrew Rathgeber as Henry, a Welshman by birth and king of England by right of his father’s conquest. Rathgeber delivers a nuanced and exquisite performance as the young king facing treason at home and war abroad.
Indeed, the cast as a whole is excellent. Rachel Barry, a Reduxion standby, is delightful as the French princess trying to learn “ze Eengleesh” from her maid; David Fletcher-Hall, another resident in the Reduxion stable of talent, serves in multiple roles, including Welsh captain and French King. Other returning Reduxion players—among them Sam Bearer (Exeter), Ian Clinton (Pistol), Matthew Percival (multiple roles), J. Collin Spring (multiple roles), Jeremy Eoff (Dauphin), and Lindsay Pittman (multiple roles)—deliver dependably versatile performances. Newcomers Victoria Hines (Nym), Matthew Turrentine (Westmoreland), Timothy Daggs (multiple roles) and Brynne Frauenhoffer (multiple roles) also perform skillfully, and Claire Powers is a powerful voice in the role of Chorus. Some of the characters are called upon to speak in a variety of British styles (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, working class London, etc.) and the variations are readily identifiable and suitably used.
The show is essentially Rathgeber’s to do with as he pleases; he entirely owns the stage every time he enters. His Henry is a very likeable young man, often confident and occasionally uncertain, aware of his responsibilities and also of his obligations as he wanders incognito among his soldiers on the eve of battle. The “St. Crispin’s Day” speech creeps up on the ear without being telegraphed, and so it arrives as an authentic expression of Henry’s own feeling, and not as a “famous” bit of Bard. His courtship of the French king’s daughter begins as political charm and believably becomes more than that. From time to time, Rathgeber deliberately lapses from the “high” British voice to the Welsh speech of Henry’s birth—a bit of character work that is subtle and effective.
“Henry V” is a monster of a play, and it requires cutting or dividing for modern audiences. Different versions tend to lean toward military history and patriotic fervor on the one hand, or on the other, toward the relationships of those facing battle and trying to justify or understand their own loyalties. Director Woods has produced a cut that is a mixed bag, giving us much of the history but cutting much of the battle of Agincourt, and giving us parts of some of the relationships while at times truncating them. Fluellen and Pistol, for example, have a famous rivalry yet play only part of it; we hear all of Henry’s courtship of Katherine, which is somewhat anticlimactic due to its position in Shakespeare’s text. Scenes of actual fighting, while well staged, are rather forced, almost as if they were in slow motion—but not quite. The elaborate yet abstract set construct, while often successfully suggesting specific kinds of spaces, on other occasions vaguely alludes to a mere idea of a location.
In the end, the show is a mixed blessing. The brilliant performances were somewhat undermined by an entirely unnecessary, non-textual, and rather strained sexual encounter between two of the French in the presence of a clearly embarrassed third party while all three persons are discussing the coming battle—a little ludicrous on the face of it. One must suppose this is to explain why the military superiority of the French failed so signally; if their leaders could not focus on either sex or war but insisted on multi-tasking, they clearly deserved to lose.
The odd encounter also raises the spectre of anachronism. Asking the audience to suspend disbelief in cross-sex casting is reasonable; it can be difficult to find enough competent male actors to fill all the factually male roles in Shakespeare’s history plays, and Reduxion has a wide range of talented women available. But to then introduce sex, and sex in the presence of others, begs the question: Are we to understand that the Duke is a woman who does not fear exposure of her impersonation of a man? Is she portraying a gay lover with no concerns of being punished for homosexuality? Are we no longer in the 15th century? It is fair to say that when questions of this sort become more important than the story, even if only for a few moments, the director has made a tactical error. Fortunately, the otherwise effectively directed and talented cast brings us back to the story at hand, and the show finishes well.
Reduxion’s “Henry V” is certainly worth the price of admission; the show plays Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. through May 31, with one Thursday evening show at 8:00 on May 29. Call 405-604-4730 for reservations, or purchase tickets on line through the website at www.Reduxiontheatre.com.