Now this is more like it.
From the first moments of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Henry V, there’s a feeling of power and potency that I found lacking in Richard II, playing in repertory at Sidney Harman Hall. This is a company in command, helmed by David Muse’s tight, almost economical direction which sets the play firmly on course.
Productions of Henry V can veer from pro-war to anti-war (most famously, see the contrast of two films – Laurence Olivier vs. Kenneth Branagh). Here, war is certainly horrible, but it’s simply what kings must do to reign. This exploration of duty is the key to Muse’s production, in my opinion, and to the performance that leads it – Michael Hayden’s superb Henry. He embodies not just Henry’s description of himself as “plain soldier” but also of a man whose study of humanity in his wild days serves him well as king.
He’s also a scrappy fighter and a man whose bad side you want to avoid. No matter how close or safe you think you are, cross him at your peril.
From the beginning, when Muse chooses to split the Chorus into three characters (wonderfully played by Larry Paulsen, Robynn Rodriguez and Ted van Griethuysen), we’re on alert that there’s something different in store. With enthusiasm, sadness and humor they guide us through the history play by connecting directly with the audience, controlling lights and sound as if performing a lecture. It’s a conceit already inherent in the play itself, and here it lends a sense of the magic of theater that is echoed in key brilliant choices – stirring singing, unfurling maps, ghostly helmets hanging in air, a bright red laser pointer.