Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s Henry V brings war to the Buffalo, NY, stage, stylistically speaking. Director Saul Elkin makes five archers and four or five soldiers look like an entire army as Henry (Patrick Moltane) orders the archers to draw and mime the loosing of arrows again and again. Then the archers step back while the slashing, stabbing, screaming soldiers come forward at Agincourt.
The audience has the French army’s point of view, and it’s a scary one, even from their lawn chairs. Unscripted moments are a hallmark of Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s productions, adding polish, back-story and depth by elaborating on Shakespeare’s famously brief stage directions. They functioned well here, bringing to life the war that led to Henry V taking over France. But the rest of this production could have used a little more polish and, hopefully, will get some as the run continues.
Moltane has the best articulation of any actor I’ve witnessed, but his careful enunciation at times made Henry seem as if he were reflecting on each word he uttered instead of speaking from the heart. His speaking style worked better as the menacing Angelo in last summer’s Measure for Measure. As Henry, Moltane is best when rallying the troops (“Once more into the breech….”), but in other scenes he seemed too flat. When he discovered that the Boy and his fellows are dead at the hands of the retreating French, Moltane’s delivery of “I was not angry since I came to France until this instant” made the audience wonder “Really? This is you mad?”
The line also suffered from a faltering sound system the second night of the run. Body mikes, particularly Moltane’s, went in and out, and when the stage microphones were turned up to compensate, they sometimes picked up extraneous sounds, such as the call of seagulls roosting near the lake behind the amphitheater. A couple of technical miscues also marred the performance.
Perhaps what Moltane needed was a little more of the regal authority brought by Tim Newell as the Chorus. While all the other characters wore Elizabethan costume, Newell was dressed like something out of the futuristic movie The Matrix, in a shiny, black, ankle-length coat, sunglasses and a shock of dyed-blond hair. Newell’s deep voice and sweeping gestures took full command of the stage and audience each time it was his turn to spin things forward through narration.
The picture Newell's narration painted was helped along by an artful sound design by Tom Makar, who added the sound of waves to Newell’s description of the boats crossing the English Channel, the blare of trumpets and whinnying horses to battle scenes.
Adam Rath, as Exeter, Henry’s cousin and right-hand-man, delivered the kind of swashbuckling and emotion one might have expected from Henry. He was particularly affecting upon the news of the death of fellow cousins York and Suffolk. That’s saying something, as the audience had never even met either of those characters.
We never met Falstaff either. He lived and died off stage, but Elkins gives the character who dominated the earlier Henriad plays his due by showing the somber lowering of the wrapped body from a second-floor room.
Nearly all of the play’s comic scenes found exactly the right tone. Tom Loughlin as Pistol and Darlene Pickering-Hummert as Mistress Quickly both did an especially good job of playing off each other and disappearing into their roles. Marie Hasselback-Costa, as Katherine’s nurse, Alice, must share the “Most Outrageous Hat of the Year Award” with costume designer Ken Shaw. Hasselback-Costa made it seem easy to wear a lacy wimple with huge points that looked like they could gore a bull fighter. Both she and Davidow handled the French lines quite naturally and with aplomb, helping along the non-French speakers in the audience with gestures and body language.
Constable (Larry Smith,) Dauphin (Matt Snyder) and Orleans (Scott McKenna Campbell) brought to mind smarmy frat boys bragging about their conquests when they tried to make bets on how many of the English they would slaughter. Their swaggering added black humor and foreshadowing, helping the audience remember how the war ends for the French. Similarly, Adam Yellen was wonderfully pompous as Montjoy every time he delivered diplomatic threats to Henry on behalf of the French King. Cranky, bombastic Fluellen (Gerry Maher), though, on the other hand wore on the nerves with his thick sometimes-Welsh-sometimes-something-else accent.
Kudos to David Marciniak, who played both the bumbling, lowly Nym and the royal King of France, necessitating what had to be some especially frantic costume changes in the wings. The physical transformation, aided by different postures, was remarkable.
Karen Tashjian’s set was a study in simple, elegant design, painted black with streaks of red and gold. Minimalist scene changes involved pulling blue curtains decorated with fleur-de-lis over a center entrance and swapping out some red –seated chairs for blue ones to indicate the action had moved from England to France.
The play needs polish, including a more pumped-up prince Henry and correcting the technical gaffes, but it was overall worth seeing.