Henry V reigns supreme in Pleasanton
By Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times /San Jose Mercury News
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's production of "Henry V," now playing in Pleasanton's Amador Valley Community Park, presents an extremely human, highly entertaining interpretation of the historical drama.
The cast, led by Craig Marker in the title role and featuring a good number of familiar Bay Area theatrical faces, is a muscular band of brothers (and a few sisters) who breathe life into the tale of King Henry V's war with the French. It's the story of how a smaller but highly motivated army of British soldiers was able to defeat the larger, but more complacent French force.
It also tells the story of how Henry, once the British royalty's wild child, set aside his drunken, carousing ways and emerged as a leader. Marker presents a well-wrought regal bearing in the role, coupled with a youthful uncertainty of a man suddenly thrust into a position of great responsibility.
The characterization is aided considerably with the rousing speeches -- "once more unto the breach," and the St. Crispin's Day exhortation -- both delivered with little fanfare, a technique that makes such familiar speeches much more effective. This understatement and regal bearing (mixed with Henry's touching and heartfelt concern for his troops), often plays in effective contrast to director Kenneth Kelleher's rollicking presentation of Shakespeare's play.
The story is told against an industrial sort of set, designed by Kelleher and constructed mostly from corrugated sheet metal and welded steel and decorated with stiff-upper-lip slogans such as "keep calm and carry on."
He tells the story with a sort of universal soldier theme, featuring wartime songs from throughout history and costumes (by Cassandra Carpenter) that blend World War I styles for the British and something more along the lines of Napoleonic garb for the French troops.
Performances are well-wrought, with some delightful scenes, including the comic characters in the show, Pistol (Michael Ray Wisely), Nym (Doyle Ott) and Bardolph (Jack Powell), soldiers with more than a touch of larceny in their souls. There is also a hugely funny scene of French Princess Katherine (Maggie Mason), trying to learn English from her maid, Alice (Michele Delattre).
"Henry" is one of the strongest shows ever presented by S.F. Shakes in its Free Shakespeare in the Park series, which continues in Pleasanton through July 15 before moving to Cupertino, Redwood City and San Francisco. You wouldn't think one of the Bard's histories would be great outdoor family fare, but "Henry" works like a champ. God save the King.