Thursday, February 28, 2013
Henry V at Folger Shakespeare Libary
Ah, finally, a young American stage actor who rivals the English. Zach Appelman is very young (I don't know how old he is but he graduated from Yale Drama School's Class of 2010), but his interpretation of Henry V stands up well in comparison with Tom Hiddleston's. (I don't like Kenneth Branagh's at all.)
This production, directed by Robert Richmond for Folger, differs from Thea Sharrock's TV production for BBC's The Hollow Crown mini-series in many key points. In some ways I prefer this version. I suppose it is impossible to have a British production of Henry V that is not (unconsciously or otherwise) slanted toward "patriotic pageantry" (words from the playbill's discussion of the play). Plus Sharrock's fangirl tendency toward Hiddleston inevitably "prettified" the role of Henry V, cutting some of the more brutal and unsavory scenes in the play.
Richmond's interpretation is rather ... American, in a way. He really played up the contradictions and contrasts and conflicts in Henry V. My God there are so many scenes switching from one extreme to another and so full of irony, thus giving me repeated whiplashes all night, that my neck felt broken by the end! One moment Henry was all lovey dovey with his "band of brothers," the next moment he orders the execution of his old pal Bardolph. One moment he gave a soliloquy on his doubts and weariness of leading his people into their deaths. The next moment he was rousing his troops with the St. Crispian Day speech. One moment the French lords told dirty jokes about horses and whores to each other, the next we were plunged into the battlefield with tens of thousands dead. One moment he threatened the French town under siege with rape and murder of their women and children, the next he ordered the execution of Bardolph for stealing.
Richmond also highlighted --- rather than toned down --- Henry's brutality and ruthlessness. Falstaff died off stage, but Bardolph did so on stage in a rather realistic and shattering hanging scene, both thanks to Harry. Appelman conveyed this quality with a youthful callousness that's both convincing and a bit scary.
This was my first visit to Folger, which is next door to the Capitol Hill. It's quite beautiful inside. The theater is small and intimate, and old --- old wood panels and floor and stage. I thought it was a bit too small for the marvelous production. Hope it expands to Broadway.
(Later I found out that this "uglier" take on Henry V was started by Michael Kahn in 1969 as an antiwar statement against Vietnam. Kahn, of course, is now the artistic director at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company. So my instinct that this approach seems American is not off the mark.)
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