Pacific Resident Theatre
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Shakespeare spread the story of King Henry V over four plays. We first hear of him, but don’t see him, in Richard II, as Prince Hal, the wastrel prodigal son of King Henry IV. In Henry IV, Part 1, we see Prince Hal’s adventures among the London lowlife and his friendship with the fat rogue Sir John Falstaff. Hal saves the life of King Henry in the war against the rebel lords, kills the warrior Hotspur in single combat, and begins to earn the respect of the king and restore his tainted reputation. In Henry IV, Part 2, King Henry dies, and Hal is crowned as King Henry V. He repudiates the fat night and assumes the responsibilities of kingship.
Shakespeare, relying on his audience’s knowledge of English history, felt no need to recapitulate the events of the earlier plays, but modern audiences may be thrown for a loss without a sense of the earlier events. Here, director Guillermo Cienfuegos and actor Joe McGovern—who also plays Prince Hal/Henry V—have deftly remedied this by inserting choice scenes from Henry IV to give us a hint of the needful background, and the two introduce us to the major characters, including King Henry IV and Falstaff. They have also cut through the forest of rhetoric to give us the essential facts of the story, played it in modern dress to give it immediacy, and assembled a versatile cast of 11 to play the 40-odd characters of the original.
McGovern gives us a Henry, still young and boyish, who loves practical jokes and disguises, delights in battles of wits with his adversaries and hoisting his enemies on their own petards, but, when called upon to lead his troops into battle, can rise spectacularly to the occasion, as at the battle of Harfleur: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more/or close the wall up with our English dead!” He has kingly authority, but he’s modest enough, before the battle of Agincourt, to circulate incognito among his soldiers to give them “a touch of Harry in the night.” And he’s capable of tongue-tied sweetness in his funny, touching wooing of the French-speaking Princess Katharine, deliciously played by Carole Weyers.
McGovern is backed up by a splendid array of actors. Alex Fernandez is an eloquent Chorus, as well as an earnest Henry IV. Dennis Madden, bearded and portly, is a convincing Falstaff and a palsied King of France. Oscar Best lends massive authority and strength to the Duke of Exeter. Joan Chodorow shines as Mistress Quickly, with her moving account of Falstaff’s death, and as Alice, Princess Katharine’s sly lady-in-waiting. Terrance Elton is agreeably obnoxious as the arrogant Dauphin of France, and Michael Prichard is a sententious Canterbury and a wily Fluellen. And one mustn’t forget the dog, a clever and handsome Airedale, who adds humor to the preshow. He gets no program credit but wins a place of honor in the curtain call.
Cienfuegos has assembled his production so adroitly that it seems almost a new work in its own right. With the simplest of means, he suggests the pomp of court life, as well as the chaos and fog of war. And, most important, he gives us a show that’s always fun to watch.
April 16, 2014
March 1–June 8. 707 Venice Blvd., Venice. Street parking or free parking behind the theaters. There is wheelchair access. Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission. $20. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express welcome. (310) 822-8392.