Henry V

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jenny Bennett
Featuring Ty Jones

Classical Theatre of Harlem at
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, 3940 Broadway

August 10, 2011 — September 4, 2011
production web site:  http://www.classicaltheatreofharlem.org/now-playing.html

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 10, 2011

Katharine (Fedna Jacquet) and Henry (Ty Jones) engage. Image by Ruth Sovronsky.

Enthusiasm, energy, powerful stage imagery, grand sound design, flexible and evocative costuming, and ensemble power are evident in the Classical Theatre of Harlem‘s current treatment of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  This is leadership stripped to raw power, performance edged in physicality, sets stripped to bare minimum, costumes cut to reveal muscle and sinew, prop hats suggesting transitions for a single actor from clown to Christian Bishop and back again.  A swift-moving ninety minute treatment of themes with less focus on words, more on action. Director Jenny Bennett‘s work here feels more choreography than textual analysis for textual clarity. This is both a strength (for action) and a puzzlement for those who are familiar with the original text.  And yet — energy alone is well worth a visit to the Shabazz Center.

For some minutes as the audience settles in, so do the actors — vocalizing, exhibiting feats of acrobatic skill, greeting audience members, wandering into the several rows of seats on three sides of the playing area.  We ease into the scaffolded stripped down world (design by Anka Lupes) — sound (design by Patricia Ju) and lights (design by Colin D. Young), then are thrown into presentations of passages, proclamations, striding on stage and off.  The speechifying isn’t effective for me in most cases but the choreography of movement and indication of emotion is quite effective.  I worried over articulation of Shakespeare’s language from “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” — I swear I heard Jones articulate this as “into the breach” — and perhaps the saddest and most interior reading of Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech calling his British soldier brethren to battle against the French soldiers by whom the British are vastly outnumbered (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) I have ever heard.

There is power in Ty Jones’s young king Henry struggling with owning his power; there is 21st-century belligerence in Fedna Jacquet‘s French princess Katharine who is to be Henry’s wife (I struggled with this characterization, yet she is charming to watch); there is genuine and sometimes distracting fun in Carine Montbertrand‘s multiple characters.  Young Tremayne Rollins, last seen me by in CTH’s Seed, has extraordinary stage presence in a 13-year-old frame.  The primarily double and triple cast balance of the ensemble serve to propel the action along.  Stage pictures haunt, sound rouses, energy inspires.  This for me is the experience of this Henry V.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 15, 2011)

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