Last summer American Players Theatre presented an adaption of Henry IV parts 1 and 2. This summer the saga continues with the strong production of Henry V that opened Saturday night.
Henry, again played by Matt Schwader, has matured from a rowdy youth spent drinking and carousing with Falstaff and crew. As a young king, Henry is finding his way as a leader. After he learns that his claim to the French throne has merit, a snotty message from the Dauphin further incites him, and he invades France. After initial success in Harfleur, the small English army is sick and waning in strength. However, Henry's famous St. Crispin's Day speech inspires his men to victory as the French underestimate the might of the English at the Battle of Agincourt.
Schwader commands the stage with his handsome looks, regal bearing and impressive range. He is appropriately rousing in the St. Crispin's Day speech but impressed me even more in the scene where he surprises a trio of would-be traitors, his eyes glinting with outrage and his physicality underlining his righteous indignation. Later he tries on the persona of a bloodthirsty warrior as he issues blustery threats to the French (he says his soldiers will rape French women and impale babies on spikes), but that's really false bravado.
Schwader shows why Henry remains such a compelling character, a fascinating mix of vanity, uncertainty and patriotism. We see these elements when he is incognito with his troops attempting to suss out what his men think of him and their mission, and as he awkwardly woos Princess Katharine of France.
The production employs some casting surprises. Carrie Coon plays both Katharine and the young boy who chafes at the shady nature of Falstaff's trio of ne'er-do-wells. She is excellent in both roles and has palpable chemistry with Schwader. Tim Gittings plays several male roles, as well as Alice, Katharine's servant, who teaches her a smattering of English words in a charming scene. Catherine Lynn Davis also takes on roles of both genders.
There are a few distractions. David Daniel's Welsh officer Fluellen could be accused of a little scenery-chewing -- if there were more scenery in this spare production. I have no quarrel with designer Takeshi Kata's decision to go with a minimalist look, because it makes sense in a play in which the chorus (James Ridge) implores the audience to fill in limitations of the stage by imagining horses, bloody battles and Navy ships. But I wish director James Bohnen had instructed Daniels to reign it in a bit.
I became fixated on costume designer Fabio Toblini's choice to use jeans and caught myself thinking that some characters got Levi's while others sported more generic brands. From the waist up, the costumes in saturated jewel tones were attractive and versatile. The denim below, not so much.
Ultimately those are fairly minor complaints, and once again I appreciate APT's well crafted production.