Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Theatre: Henry V (reviews)

New Theatre opened its production of Henry V on August 26, 2011, an adaptation by Ronald Mangravite.
Shakepeare’s triumphant drama tells the story of Henry V, once an unruly, wild are heavy-drinking adolescent, who is now King of England and must inspire and lead his soldiers into war against France over land and titles.  

Under the direction of Ronald Mangravite, the play is a mix of the medieval and the contemporary, with non-traditional casting.
Ronald Mangravite directed a cast that included himself, Sipiwe Moyo, Robert Alter, Merry Jo Cortada, Tara Vodihn, Scott Douglass Wilson, Charles Sothers, Christina Groom, and Jordy Diaz.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Adapter-director-actor Ronald Mangravite (he’s also the fight director and designer of the simple set) has devised a Henry V that comes in at just a little over two hours, with nine actors playing 33 characters. may find yourself puzzling over exactly which character a quick-changing actor is playing at a given moment. Yes, costume designer K. Blair Brown helps differentiate the characters, as do the actors via shifting accents, gestures and movement. But a who’s-who diagram would have been a helpful program insert.
...the king is played by a woman, and the three other actresses in the cast play more male than female characters. Mangravite’s Henry is Sipiwe Moyo, a talented graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Moyo handles Shakespeare’s language well, rallying the meager English troops with the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, believably (for the most part) inhabiting the character, suggesting masculinity through the way she sits and moves. Still, vocally and physically, Moyo is clearly a woman. Cumulatively she becomes a kinder, gentler Henry, though not as part of an illuminating reinterpretation of the play.
Most effective in their roles are Mangravite, an experienced Shakespearean hand, as the chorus and the Duke of Exeter; Scott Douglas Wilson, who vividly creates five different characters; and Merry Jo Cortada, in particular as Mistress Quickly and the French queen. Christina Groom as the French princess Katharine and Tara Vodihn as Lady Alice bring a charming playfulness fun to the scene in which Alice tries to teach a few English words to the princess...
Mangravite’s fight choreography brings a noisy, dangerous edge to the play’s big battle scene. And in a bare-bones way, the story of Henry V gets told... As far as imagination goes, this Henry V requires some extremely heavy lifting.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
In the end, director Ronald Mangravite was right.

Sipiwe Moyo is a skilled enough actress that being an African American woman became nearly irrelevant to her playing the title role in New Theatre’s production of Henry V.
In fact, the surprise of the production that opened Saturday was that Moyo and most of this cast demonstrated more clarity and dexterity delivering Shakespearean speech than virtually any local troupe has in many years . Despite a long list of carps and criticisms, this is a mildly imaginative production that has elements worth seeing, especially since we get so little adequate Shakespeare in South Florida.

No, the crippling shortfall with Moyo’s Henry, and by no coincidence the entire production, was that she and the proceedings lacked the rousing charismatic magic essential to drive this narrative.
Some of the fault is (oh, heresy) the script itself; Shakespeare was writing a popular historical pageant. But Laurence Olivier used Henry V as an example from a storied past to bolster English nationalism during World War II. Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant film version depicts the horror of war forging the maturation of a young man into a king.
Despite its faults, the New Theatre production benefits from inventive staging.
Mangravite has drawn out crisp and energetic performances from much of the cast. Especially effective is the chameleon Scott Douglas Wilson...
Close behind him is Christina Groom
as the arrogant Dauphin of France who has the energy that Henry needed
here. She is also terribly funny as the French princess Katherine who
speaking almost exclusively French, struggles to learn English from her
lady-in-waiting, the equally comic Tara Vodihn.

Vodihn does go way over the scenery-chewing top in portraying the rascally foot soldier Pistol, probably overcompensating for the fact that it’s nigh onto impossible to buy a woman playing Long John Silver.
...a final kudo is due Mangravite as The Actor who plays Exeter and Chorus. From the moment he starts the play with “O, for a muse of fire…” clad in blue jeans and a black T-shirt with the auditorium still lit, you are hearing someone whose caress of the verse deftly wrings out the meaning of every syllable as opposed to every line. No one has performed Shakespeare as well since David Mann’s Hamlet for New Theatre in 2002. Frankly, his clarity, bite and verve underscore how few local actors have the skill set to needed to nail the music and meaning in Shakespeare’s language. It’s one of the reasons to go see this production.
Ronald Mangravite's adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V will play at New Theatre through September 10, 2011.

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