By Bridgette M. Redman, EncoreMichigan.com
There comes a point in any production when a decision must be made whether an element is doing more harm than good. If it is, a way must be found to change it or eliminate it.
Water Works Theatre Company would have done well to eliminate its sound system and ensure that the actors could project according to the rigors of outdoor theater. As it is running now through Sunday, the microphones are compromising all the other good work they are doing. The mikes frequently cut out, were late getting turned on, were inappropriately left on during fight scenes, and made for disconcerting ventriloquism effects when an actor strode through the audience but his voice was still coming from the stage in front.
The actors in “Henry V” are skilled and surely could be up to the basic task of making sure they could be heard over the eager crowd that had gathered to hear them. Indeed, they deserve to have the responsibility for their performance put back in their hands and voices, rather than the fickleness of the electronics.
This is especially true of Michael Brian Ogden, an actor who made for a charming Henry, a charismatic king who deserved the loyalty of those who followed him. Some of his best speeches were broken by the crackling of a microphone that kept going in and out. While he tried valiantly to overcome the technical difficulties, his courage would have been better focused on the battles the beleaguered king was fighting.
“Henry V” is compelling on many levels. It is a war story, a coming-of-age story and the story of cultures clashing. After a mostly misspent youth, Harry has taken the throne and must put aside childish things and lead his country nobly. It is a play that is best understood if the audience, like those Shakespeare was writing for, understand some of the basic historic background and know of the characters that appear on the stage.
The cut of the script that Water Works used puts the focus firmly on Henry and his nobility. We see him as the young king who must prove himself both home and abroad. He struggles with the responsibility that lays heavily on his shoulders, but does not hesitate to do what he must do. Ogden nailed the “we happy few” speech with passion, conviction and sincerity.
Some of the lesser plotlines are given short shrift, with the stories of Henry’s former drinking buddies being left fragmented and unclear. We are given a wonderful introduction to them, but no explanation of why they mourn so deeply for Falstaff or what it means to their future. Likewise, their fates are almost like footnotes, with the final exchange between Piston and Fluellen being odd because there was so little set-up for it.
Kirk Haas first created a Fluellen who was a loyal follower of the king, eschewing the typical Welsh accent while in the presence of the king. However, when it came time for the comic scenes, the Welsh accent came out in full, an inconsistency that did little to help the storytelling.
As the loyal uncle present to guide the king and carry out his commands, Keith Kalinowski was solid in the role of Exeter. He was generous in his choices, especially during the tennis ball scene where his reactions set up the opportunity for Ogden to show Henry’s many layered reaction.
Director Sara Wolf Molnar launched the play by dividing up the famed “Muse of Fire” speech, giving the words of the chorus to the entire cast. This immediately provided action and energy to the play with broad crosses and by filling up the stage with those who would tell the story. It was an effective choice that quickly sets the stage.
Jon Ager as Dauphin led one of the most effectively comic scenes in the show as he praised his horse to the not-so-patient ears of two fellow nobles in his army. Ager created a Dauphin who was an arrogant, spoiled prince, the perfect contrast to Henry.
Lauren Knox’s Katherine and Erika Hoveland’s Alice were charming and full of energy. They provided such fun and delight with their scenes that it mattered not if you could understand a single word of the French they were speaking. They clearly communicated with their tones, expressions, and movement.
The “Henry V” production at Water Works Theatre Company has much to recommend it. Before you go, read up a little on who the characters are if you are unfamiliar with it, and then let yourself be swept away by the story of a boy becoming king. Maybe you’ll even get lucky enough to see a show where the microphones are more consistent than they were on opening night – or better yet, turned off completely.
For tickets and showtimes, visit EncoreMichigan.com.
Bridgette M. Redman reviews local theater productions for http://www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.