| go to other reviews | go to entry page | | go to other departments |


Beate Hein Bennett

From Playboy to Warmonger

Collin McConnell as Henry V

March 15 to 17, 2024
“Henry V -- Shakespeare in the Raw”
Presented by First Maria Ensemble & Knickerbocker Players
Marjorie S. Dean Little Theater
10 W. 64th Street, New York, NY (Westside YMCA)
March 15 @ 8 PM, March 16 @ 2PM & 8PM, March 17 @ 2PM
$50 gen. adm. Buy tickets at https://www.firstmaria.com/hnery-v, 212-912-2618
Questions: wsyboxoffice@ymcanyc.org
Running time 2h 45min. with one 15 min. intermission
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, March 15, 2024

A young ensemble with high octane “raw” energy, fast moving lips and words tumbling out, performs William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” (1599) in all respects “raw” with breakneck speed. It’s a feat—and here one is justified to ask “how did they learn all those lines” and deliver them full of intense vigor. Shakespeare’s language is a feast, like a wild boar roast dished up with spice, some raisins, and lots of sharp mustard (or horseradish). But not to overwork the simile—something Shakespeare does with abandon in “Henry V”—the feast flies by so fast, I doubt if the audience really can catch all the embedded double ironies, verbal and dramatic.

L: Celeste Moratti as Chorus. R: Henry V (Collin McConnell) and his court receiving tennis balls from the Dauphin.

“Henry V” was first performed at the new Globe Theater (“the wooden O”) in 1599 in the same season as the first production of “Julius Caesar”—two questionable titular heroes. Both plays deal with the consequences of political actions that were based in the decisions of increasingly repressive and autocratic policies as they emanated from the aging Queen Elizabeth I and her “willing executioners” and ambitious nobles. In the case of “Julius Caesar,” we deal with a paranoid aging power monger, namely Julius Caesar, who is undermining republican ideals. In the case of Henry V we deal with a king who invades France justifying his claim on the French crown on a spurious inheritance law, the Salic Law, which the Archbishop of Canterbury elaborately explains in the second scene to the assembled English nobles and the French ambassador. (In the first scene the Archbishop spells out for Bishop Ely how the church needs to dish up the necessary campaign funds for Henry’s intended campaign to claim “his” French crown—Canterbury is full of superb ironic commentary with regard to Henry’s conversion or “change” from being a wastrel but popular youth to being a grandiose but popular king. In the play, Shakespeare exposes through subtext and irony the real character of this king beneath his charming ingratiating personality: he sacrifices with seeming indifference the lives of his people in his selfish war campaign and power grab against France. (His audience in 1599 would have been well aware of another irony: Henry V’s father, Henry Bolingbroke--Henry IV-- usurped power through connivance and murder.) By 1599, England having lost all territorial possessions in France, the Battle at Agincourt, Henry V’s triumph, was but a memory, but included in the play is the murderous siege of Harfleur that preceded Agincourt. In sum, Henry V is a king with many poses and many masks—he performs king and commoner with equal ease and bamboozles everyone with his charm and his words, except when he has to “perform” his wooing in French to persuade Katherine, the daughter of the French king to marry him; she accepts only with her father’s order. And so ends the play! Had the marriage been contracted to begin with, thousands of lives would have been spared—but we would not have the play.

L: Patrick Siler as Archbishop of Canterbury. R: Simone Stadler as Katherine.

Patrick Siler, the director of The Knickerbocker Players—he also plays the Archbishop of Canterbury and later drums in the wings—has assembled a cast who whip through the text playing multiple roles. Colin McConnell performs Henry V having imbibed the text into his very fiber. I find “Shakespeare in the Raw” an engaging theatrical conceit—to strip all production values to the minimum in favor of the words. However, “there’s the rub” to quote Hamlet. If words are the focus of the performance, the speedy delivery empties words of their resonance and they simply wash over the audience like sound waves. I would suggest that with intelligent cutting, a shortened version of “Henry V” (which is wordy in the extreme) would provide the audience with a pithy performance experience in which the actual timeliness of the play would become clear, since like Henry V, Trump, Putin and other “charming” autocrats now perform a political theater of cruelty like murderous clowns a la The Joker where the joke is on the credulous population.

Aleda Bliss as Dauphin


| home | reviews | cue-to-cue | discounts | welcome | | museums |
| recordings | coupons | publications | classified |