June through August, 2023
BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV)
Those were the goode olde days. We were brave against all odds. We had our faults, we oddball band of brothers, but we pulled through. Victory! And we couldn’t have done it without goode ol’ Harry. What a guy. What a great leader.
Sound like William Shakespeare?
Nah. Shakespeare says it better. And with a lot more flair.
But that is the gist of “Henry V,” being presented this summer outdoors at Bjorklunden garden by Door Shakespeare. Twenty-four performances remain to Aug. 24. (Saturday night’s performance even came with a scent; lilacs were in bloom near the performance area).
This is the first time in the professional company’s 25 years that it has offered “Henry V.”
The play has the feel of a documentary, a re-telling of historical events from one glorified perspective – a kind of high-level marketing.
Recounted is the Battle of Agincourt of 1415, when the outmanned British whupped the French on their own ground.
In “Henry V,” the victor’s spoils include the hand of (in marriage, not from the bloody battlefield) Princess Katherine of France to end the play on a happy, romantic note.
A storyteller, called Chorus, plants the seeds of imagination in the audience. Chorus (Matt Daniels, who also directs with luster) sets the action in motion and then revisits at key times.
Particularly robust are scenes before and during the battle, with Door Shakespeare’s natural backdrop and time of day (for night performances) heightening effects.
Before: It’s the middle of the night, and Chorus and key players from the opposing sides beam flashlights on their faces, creating a haunting aura. The degrees of anticipation – from eager to fearful – are there. In disguise and in the dark, Henry V makes his way around his camp to fire up his men, though not always successfully (forming a side story that returns as a kind of epilogue).
During the battle: Soldiers of both armies are marshalled around the stage, weapons at the ready in red lighting. From vantage points above the action (a platform on Door Shakespeare’s impressive maple tree) cryptic orders are called out by Henry V (Eric Schabla) and Louis the Dauphin, Prince of France (Elyse Edelman). The battle erupts, and mayhem breaks loose. The main weapons in this case are swords. Those weapons in this case are rounded balusters from the set’s staircase.
Most of the play is the before and the after of the battle.
What transpires for the audience is an experience that Door Shakespeare is so good at – giving color and meaning and immediacy to Shakespeare’s words.
Shakespeare can be – sha-zam! – stimulating.
Rooted in dedication to craft – and more specifically the craft of things Shakespearean .
As Henry V, Eric Schabla embraces the idealism of a youthful king who tries to do the right thing. Schabla taps elements of toughness, of determination, of shyness.
Interesting roles and performances are all around.
Michael Herold portrays one of the baddies, Pistol, who does whatever necessary to get by.
Also colorful is Dan Klarer as Captain Fluellen, always excitable in word and action in a dangerously comical, comically dangerous way.
Women step into male roles. Most prominent are Allie Babich as the French herald Montjoy (and others) and Elyse Edelman as Louis the Dauphin (and others). Babich and Edelman also have a dual scene of a male-female couple wooing across two languages that is a bit of a brain twister.
An important feature in this production, I think, has to do with the phrase, “band of brothers.” The phrase is very familiar today. It’s interesting that its origin [is] from Shakespeare. Rallying his forces, King Henry V says, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brothers…” That’s quite stirring.
Also not by accident, the actors do their warmups – their stretching, their practicing of a few lines, their vocalese, back pats/head pats among themselves for camaraderie – as they drift around the stage. Some even chat with audience members.
‘Tis not an average time at Door Shakespeare, this “Henry V.”
Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Matt Daniels; costume designer – Kim Instenes; scenic and properties designer – Jody Sekas; music director/composer – Scott McKenna Campbell; lighting designer – Todd Mion; fight director – Dan Klarer; production stage manager – Kira Neighbors; assistant stage manager – Camille C. Nierengarten; producing artistic director – Michael Stebbins; managing director – Amy Ensign
To read Warren Gerds’ full review, go here.