Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Henry V: Is He a Hero or a Thief? Questions Abound as Shakespeare Production Doesn't Quite Add Up

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Henry V: Is He a Hero or a Thief? Questions Abound as Shakespeare Production Doesn't Quite Add Up

Article excerpt

Considering the St. Louis Shakespeare Company's recent pattern of productions with oddball twists - "The Taming of the Shrew" set in the Wild West, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" in a mental hospital - it was tempting to speculate what they might do with the patriotic history play, "Henry V." But director Terry Sneed serves up a straight, spare production - and in so doing, raises one of the most unexpected questions "Henry V" could ask.

Is Henry a hero, or a thief? Does he lead his country with a pure heart, or are his motives no better than those of any other avaricious despot?

Then again, maybe Sneed isn't raising that provocative question at all. Maybe that's only the kind of explanation you find yourself looking for when things on stage don't quite add up. This production is too uneven to be sure. But it certainly makes you think.

The story is simple. Henry V (Tim Steiner), king of England in the early 15th century, makes a claim that he is by hereditary rights also king of France. When the king of France disagrees, they go to war. At Agincourt, the English troops ("we few, we happy few"), hungry, sick and outnumbered, defeat the French. Henry is established as the model of good king: noble and brave, yet down-to-earth, caring for his men as well as his nation.

These heroic scenes are interspersed with comic scenes involving low-lifes and good fellows attached to the army, and comic-romantic scenes that build toward Henry's marriage to the French princess Katherine (Julie Layton, a charmer.)

Steiner carries himself well and gives confident deliveries of Henry's many famous speeches. Lavonne Byers is also good as the Chorus. Thanks to her narration, the action is easy to follow.

But not everyone in the large cast is comfortable with the language. Many actors take a locomotive approach, rushing through their speeches as though they can't wait to get to the next stop (somebody else's lines). …

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