In the end, the problem lies with the play. Henry V asks: is there a moral war? And answers “Yes”… because God wants me to win. Who believes that? Henry does. But short of turning him into a full-blown religious maniac (which this production avoids), how are we, the modern Western world, supposed to follow him?
By Melanie Hooks
This production doesn’t so much sell Henry’s view as present it, for what it’s worth, from an emotional distance. Rafael Goldstein’s Henry swings between cleverness and rage. He’s calculating certainly. Always aware of his responsibility. But the more tender-hearted of his speeches often fail to ratchet down to a more humane level, Henry remaining above others at all times, even as he seeks to understand his regular soldiers. Previous interpretations have pivoted more on this ‘man of the people’ urge, but directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott & Geoff Elliott strive to place the king physically above others whenever possible: glowering down from risers, driving foes to their knees in battle, and in prayer, standing straight-backed, looking his approving God straight in the eye. There’s no physical hint outside of “Prince Hal”’s dissolute youth. No self-reproach or self-doubt, no silliness or missteps. While this makes Goldstein a less relatable Henry, we cannot question his strength or his sense of right. As king, Henry’s first thought is to claim France as his own, expand his kingdom, and thus enrich the church coffers. The church is happy. Henry’s happy. His people will even die happy, knowing their king, not themselves, will answer for their souls.
Dr. Miranda Johnson-Haddad writes in the program article, “Shakespeare’s history plays have never stopped being relevant, because humanity has never ceased debating what kind of a person makes for a truly powerful and effective leader.” The point seems to be for us, the audience, not the leader himself, to debate that. The famous soldier-rousing speeches (“Once more into the breach, my friends,” etc.) fall flatter than they would with a more introspective, changeable character, as there’s less emotional room for Goldstein to roam. This strips Henry V of the linguistic glamour for which it is often loved.
Costumes by Angela Balogh Calin stick to fatigues, blacks and greys, for the English, regardless of social station. The striking contrast when some characters switch to white as French soldiers emphasizes a world view of light and dark, nothing in between.
Sound Designer and Composer Robert Oriol and Music Director Dr. Melissa Sky-Eagle bring some of the most original elements to the play, though not all come together smoothly. The entire cast acts as Chorus, and their capable acapella singing of “Non Nomis, Domine,” the play’s funerary piece, works to underscore the above-mentioned, no-frills tone.
The decision to score some scenes as a film would be (including the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech) pulls in the other direction, toward a more manipulated experience. That falls more in line with a manipulative monarch, which fits, even if a little distracting. But little can explain the choice to pull the audience out of the agreed-upon hyper-reality by featuring a pop-style solo that halts all action, from a seemingly walk-on singer, complete with spotlight and microphone, just as everyone else onstage is leaping into battle.
This is unfortunate as Fight Choreographers Kenneth R. Merckx, Jr., Collin Bressie and Marc Leclerc do an outstanding job of bringing passion to the staged conflict without awkward melodrama. Making a modern audience care about actors with fake swords is no easy task, and the production deserves a special shout-out for first-class fight sequences.
Also outstanding are players Kasey Mahaffy, Jeremy Rabb, Frederick Stuart and Michael Uribes. All do double or triple-duty roles as both the lowest of English rabble and the highest ranking French courtiers. They carry the audience’s heart. Their petty jealousies, love of safety and security, friendships and griefs are all more relatable than kingly ambitions, and each actor turns from one identity into the next deftly, leaning on the chorus players throughout to make transitions believable and quick.
An early performance met with loud cheers and ovations, and the topic of power and its use/abuse couldn’t be timelier. A Noise Within’s production hasn’t quite found its rhythm, and the tone could use some clarifying. One feels though that whether these things settle into a more cohesive whole or not, directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott’s “physical, muscular production” (self-described) asks the right questions.
This Henry V may not be a man of the people, but in the end, do we want him to be?
• Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott & Geoff Elliott
• Henry: Rafael Goldstein
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A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107
Free parking available at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Parking Structure.
• Now through April 6
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• General admission: $25 – $84
(discount tickets also available @ goldstar.com)
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