Henry V | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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HENRY V, Shakespeare Repertory. Powerful but perverse, this patriotic play makes us cheer for the wrong side. Shakespeare's sympathies were entirely with Henry's predatory invasion of France--with the soldiers who died for reasons they wot not and with the king who redeemed his rakehell reputation through the body count at Agincourt.

After a 12-year hiatus, director Barbara Gaines returns to this sprawling three-hour epic intending to make its war fever sicken us. Appropriately, the English are clad in sinister black, the French in pure white. Henry is an arch opportunist as played with sardonic severity by Stephen Kunken, his brave words only so much self-deception. His usually rousing Saint Crispin speech is here a private pep talk for a few chosen nobles.

However gutsy, Gaines's revisionism undermines the spirit of this soaring script. The lighter stuff suffers most: the Pistol/Bardolph scenes play like horrible Goya-like vignettes. When Kunken must make Henry likable, as in his wooing of Princess Katharine, he looks woefully uncomfortable. The one standout is Patrick Clear, whose Welsh warrior is a marvel of untrammeled, sadly uncontagious energy. But the most curious, least successful element in this period production is Alaric Jans's anachronistic blues ballads. Wonderfully sung by James C. "Jay" Williams as the Chorus, they still evoke a diametrically different world and mood than the buoyant script demands.

--Lawrence Bommer

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