Michael Hayden as King Henry V in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by David Muse. Photo by Scott Suchman.
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.
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Michael Hayden as King Richard II in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Richard II, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
I don’t normally write the kind of review that I’m writing today. But to be blunt, I’ve had enough. What is going on at Shakespeare Theatre Company? Inconsistent vocality, acting styles ranging all over from natural to downright hammy, condescending directorial choices, flubbed lines. With so much talent at its disposal, I can only attribute it to growing pains with the Harman Center. But even that excuse is not going to last much longer with me. I love theater and I love Shakespeare. I want everyone to succeed. But if you don’t start bringing it, STC, I’m going to lose faith.
My first hint something was not right with Richard II, now playing in repertory with Henry V as part of an exploration on leadership themes, was in reading Michael Kahn’s directorial notes. He had decided to add a prologue from an anonymously penned Elizabethean play called Thomas of Woodstock because “I’ve always been aware of how mystified the audience is for the first four scenes.” Um, what? The audience has to piece together what happens at the first scene of Hamlet too, but I don’t see anyone advocating giving the ghost’s secret away right off the bat. So this is a choice to enlighten the audience? Why, we’re too dumb to catch up on our own? The patched together prologue is interminable and unnecessary, giving us our first glimpse of Richard’s neurosis and paranoia far too soon, not to mention solidifying in my mind –
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Image courtesy of VelocityDC
There are dance parties where you dance, and dance parties where you watch in awe. This Friday and Saturday for a paltry $15 you can do the latter at VelocityDC Dance Festival, where six companies will strut their stuff upon the stage of the Harman Center. It’s a wide variety – ballet, modern, flamenco, hip hop – with troupes such as The Washington Ballet, CityDance Ensemble, and Liz Lerman Dance Exchange presenting short pieces designed to introduce you to dance performance.
Both nights start with a special street performance at 5:30pm called “Bodies in Urban Space,” which will move from the Navy Memorial through Penn Quarter to the Harman. Stage performances begin at 7:30pm. Meet the dancers afterwards at the bars of the Harman to chat them up about their profession, one of the most grueling and athletic of the performing arts.
And if that weren’t enough, Saturday will also feature a 10pm cabaret with performers like Furia Flamenca and Capital Movement Project, followed by DJ Ian Knight spinning in the Harman lounges.
So, $15 for poetry in motion. Not bad.