THEATER REVIEW: “Henry V”

The question in regal circles during British King Henry IV’s reign was whether the next-in-line, Prince Hal – a known good-time Charlie who spent far too much time in an Eastcheap tavern with that rascally Sir John Falstaff and engaged in other decidedly unkinglike pursuits – would manage to curb those tendencies and actually rule intelligently once he acceded to the throne.

Shakespeare answers that question in “Henry V.”

A decidedly 21st-century question – whether brand-new New Fortune Theatre (founded by Richard Baird, founder of the earlier Poor Players Theatre Company) has a future in this city – can also be answered now.

New Fortune’s production of “Henry V” shows that the clear answer to both is a resounding yes.

Henry IV left his son a legacy of insurrection and rebellion, probably partly inspired by his usurpation of the throne from Richard II (who was murdered, probably by the usurper). The natives were restless when Henry V took over and the king less than thrilled with local problems like “sneaky Scots.”

So Henry V, proving himself a better politician than many might have thought, heeded his father’s advice to “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels” and picked a fight with France.

“Henry V” shows what a fine military tactician the king turned out to be, engendering support from his soldiers with the famous “band of brothers” speech and proceeding to roll over the opposition with superior equipment: longbows rather than hand-to-hand combat.

Baird plays the king in this modern-dress chamber production at ion theatre’s BLKBOX. This Henry is pragmatic, decisive, committed, even a bit scheming – no longer the fun-loving wastrel Hal of the old days.

Co-director Matt Henerson digs into the character of Fluellen, a Welsh soldier who has some amusing scenes with “sneaky Scot” Jamy (Neil McDonald) and that wonderful leek-eating scene with Pistol.

This production is loaded with fine acting – from 14 actors playing 33 roles – beginning with Jessica John’s lively narration as Chorus and the comic trio of holdovers from the Falstaff days – Pistol (John Tessmer), Bardolph (Walter Murray) and Nym (Marcus L. Overton).

Dana Hooley plays four parts well, Mistress Quickly the most memorable. Neil McDonald wins the prize for most roles (six); Jake Rosko is fine as both the Dauphin (amusingly announcing that “my horse is my mistress”) and Scroop, one of the traitors.

Rachael VanWormer plays another traitor – Grey – and the French herald delivering messages (and tennis balls) from the Dauphin. Ed Hollingsworth, Matthew Thompson and J. Tyler Jones make valuable contributions as well.

Amanda Schaar plays the lovely French princess Katharine, ending the play with a charming mangled-language encounter with her husband-to-be Henry V.

Credit Matt Lescault-Wood with the fine sound design, Aaron Rumley for effective lighting and Kacia Castelli with the updated costumes.

Bravo to all and welcome to the new kids on the local theater block.

The details

New Fortune Theatre’s production of “Henry V” plays through November 9, 2014 at Ion BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest.

Wednesday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 and 7:30 pm.

Tickets: Click HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.