Play 4: Henry V (Richmond Shakespeare Festival, VA)

2009 June 15
by admin

I’ve had sort of a trend-setting edge on my father-in-law since I started dating his daughter 20 or so years ago. A pattern emerged from our relationship. I think I was the first person in Indiana to drive a Ford Festiva (a fact that I am quite proud of…that “little, big car” of a thing). Granted, I bought the first model in 1987 when living in California and then drove the silver bullet to college in Northern Indiana the following year. After Lori and I got married, Ken and Doris bought a Ford Festiva and thus began a trend of us being the beta testers and my in-laws realizing the waters were okay and then buying something similar. But it’s not all on-sided. Ken teaches me about stuff around the house: electrical work, assembling various stuff in big boxes and other activities around the house that required things called “tools.” We share a slight disregard for all-things-plumbing but recently Ken announced that he was actually enjoying a particular pipe project and I now am left alone to brood over activities requiring water on the floor and a thing called a “pipe wrench.”

Ken purchased his Garmin GPS about a year ago, partially for his trips but mostly for geocaching with our boys. I thought it an amusing little device but didn’t see much point to having something tell you what you could find on a paper map or on GoogleMaps. So, it was to his slight glee when I asked him what Consumer Reports said about GPS units and which was the better to buy. He was probably grinning when I told him that my Garmin came UPS the other day and that my Garmin had some interesting features. I think he might have even said it then: “So, you’re following me on technological purchases this time?” to which I responded “Yep, I guess I am.”

We both smiled.

My Garmin 265 GPS (I don’t have a name for it yet and if you must really know, I’ve settled on the “Karen” [Australian English] voice) was about the only company I had from Louisville, Kentucky to Richmond, Virginia. I was listening to my first Jodi Picoti book Mercy and I was getting a bit lonely for people. And I realized that this was the first time the summer that I had felt that way and that this was a bit early on in the process to get all “human contact” emotional. I blame much of this on the book, where the husband and wife are going through some marital situations and the dialogue sounded a bit too real for a book. Another part of my feeling this way is that I was on unfamiliar territory, on I-64 traveling through the Eastern part of Kentucky and then through West Virginia. The scenes were incredible, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and just constant reminder that though we think the States are crowded, there are still places that seem untouched by television and the internet and even my cell phone service carrier. That part of the drive, through West Virginia, crowded out humans and emphasized Nature.

I also knew that I was in a different part of the nation, a part that wasn’t so much of the “Northern” values that I was used to in Indiana. A “Comrade Obama” bumper sticker reminded me that this was a part of that dividing line of a time called Civil War. I was apparent to me that many people still cling to state-control instead of federal-control.

I was reminded of this last week on our way to Pennsylvania and the trucker in front of me looked over at a hat-wearing guy donning a t-shirt with a confederate flag. “Amazing how people still can’t let go, you know?” half talking to me. “Yeah” I said. The trucker was black; the hat guy, white. And I’m not sure I want people to “let go” or to tell everyone to just “hold hands and imagine a world of peace and love.” People have backgrounds and have deep-rooted stories, much like the background of Cameron (Cam) McDonald in the book I was listening to. Sure, we like to think we can get over our past, but sometimes that’s easier when we’re the side that won. Cam McDonald isn’t always keen in embracing his position as Lair that he has inherited from his father, but Cam finds it difficult to define himself without his past.

My one stop in West Virginia was in Huntington and the people at the Krogers and the Hardees and the Rite-Aid were all kind to me. They weren’t the stereotypical notion that I had of those from the Appalachian area, but then again, perhaps Huntington was different than other parts of West Virginia. And then again, people are different in the various areas of Indiana, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I got some traveling munchies from Krogers (Vanilla Waffers, Ginger Snaps and a wonderful sale on snack-size Nutter Butters: 10 for $10…I got two), a cheeseburger meal at Hardees (underrated fast food, in my opinion), and deodorant from Rite-Aid (something I’ve forgotten on my last two trips and the last time I forgot, I ended up with Women’s SpeedStick and I smelled powderly-fresh for the rest of that day in St. Louis). After getting gas, I was back on the road and stopped only for a scenic spot picture off the road in Virginia.

Priceline.com came through for me again and I was at the Sheraton West for the night–a great location off the interstate and a wonderful room with comfortable beds. I was pushing time as I wanted to make the opening night toast at 7:15 p.m. and I was a bit concerned about what to wear. Lori will tell you that I’ve come a long ways since meeting me in college (a time when I thought kelly green pants and navy blue collarless shirts were the happening thing). Last night was easy: outside community theater. Tonight was a bit more upscale and it was a bit warm and humid out. I ironed the long sleeve shirt, put on the nicer jeans and had a sports coat in the car. That all changed when I walked outside and was knocked by the wall of humidity. Perhaps I spend too much time inside an air-conditioned classroom, but I said “Ah, no way” and changed back into shorts and my signature orange polo shirt.

I had a verbal volley with the lights on Malvern Avenue. Tonight’s venue was only 5 miles away and I had stopped by the Target on the way for an umbrella thinking that 1.5 miles wouldn’t be any problem (the GPS was saying that I would arrive at my destination at 7:05 p.m.). But that time would get later and later as every block had a stoplight and every green would turn to red before I could speed to the next intersection. The Malvern Avenue lights were winning the volley and I think they were gloating a bit.

I did get to the Agecroft Hall on time, but couldn’t find the place where the toasting was to be happening (and, there was going to be champagne). So I picked up my ticket from the box office and walked around the grounds a bit watching the people of Richmond enjoy this royal-feeling green place. I got a bit self-conscious with the whole “what to wear” thing, but eventually accepted myself as I was, bought a Coke and had a seat in the bleachers. I say bleachers not in the high school football game bleacher sense–these were the nice baseball park ones and after deciding not to block people’s view of the play with my six foot five frame in the aisle, I wandered up toward the back and found something a bit less distracting.

Three women were on stage, singing traditional songs and sewing an English flag…possibly one from the time of Henry V. The seating arrangement reminded me of last week when I saw Complete Works at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival: two sides of few rows and deeper rows for center stage. I was about nine rows back. This all took place-this play about this “Star of England”–against the backdrop of the tudor Agecroft Hall and with the music and the torches and the women on stage, it was easy to be transported to the story of Henry V.

Of all of Shakespeare’s play, this one–Henry V– is the one I know best. I had read it as an undergrad, saw the Lawrence Olivier version and was wowed by its cinematic transition from the Globe into reality going into Act II. One of my favorite papers I wrote was about the relationship of then Prince Hal and his father, King Henry IV, and I also have watched the 1989 Kenneth Branagh version on VHS and DVD several times. I saw a stage version in Stratford, ON a couple years back and thought that that Henry had a delivery that somewhat resembled a cross between Peter O’Toole and William Shatner. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy that performance and it’s World War I setting, it’s just that I wasn’t used to the voices. And I think that’s a problem to work through if you’ve seen or heard the same version of anything–a play or a musical or a song–how can you allow for another interpretation?

Sometimes I’ll tell my colleagues at school that I’m “aiming low.” My meaning is that I try to approach my days in the classroom not with a sunny disposition, but with preparation that everything might just go wrong. So at the end of the day when most of us are decompressing in the hallways, I can say that the day went better than I had planned. I don’t do this all the time, but it is a way to deal with those things which I have little control of (mainly in this case, my students and their behaviors). And perhaps, that’s how I’ve approached this project: not high expectations for live theater, with its countless variables (the weather, a man mowing his lawn, air traffic patterns, an ambling old man getting up from his chair during a performance) let alone the actors and their lines and cues on sound and lighting. It’s quite a lot of coordinating and sometimes things happen and recover, and sometimes, from the audience’s point of view, the play goes on with any distractions.

This audience at this production had high expectations for this play’s performance. Sure there were the friends and family of cast members who are excited to see someone they know be transformed into one of court of Henry V. This crowd also included people who had seen a lot of professional theater and this crowd, most of them, knew Shakespeare and knew the history of Hal and his father. Some in this audience could even translate the French spoken between Katherine and her handmaiden. These people in this audience grew up with Shakespeare and I think most were happy with what happened on stage this night.

I liked how the three women on stage became the Chorus and also a few of female parts in the play. I think the decision to use a toned-down royal wardrobe for King Henry and his court served as a reminder that this was a time closer to a traditional Robin Hood era than a stiff, classical one. For a history play, it’s nice to have some lighter moments. Aside from the comedy between the religious men in Act I and between the commoners of Bardolph, Nym and Pistol, who else can you over-emphasize in this play? That’s right: French royalty. Sure it was a bit prissy (especially the Dauphin) but the text supports an overconfident French that eventually lost the day at the battle of Agincourt. The audience also liked the exaggerated character of all-things-by-the-book-Welsh Fluellen, who helped to transition the play during the “glove” confrontation–from the winning at Agincourt up to the wooing scene (a stretch in the play that the Branagh edited out in his film version).

And now onto King Henry V (Phillip James Brown). At first I wasn’t a fan of his longer speeches, but I came around as I backed down from how I heard the “Upon the King” and “St. Crispin’s Day” soliquoys and found myself refocus on the character of Henry V. I think Brown helped me, more than the last production I saw of this play, “feel” for this once “giddy youth” as he assumes responsibility for his country and his people and for his God. The play is about a transition of power and Brown helped this be a play about all of the factors and people involved–the common men, the loyalists, the French–not just about the King himself. Interesting as I think of it now: though Henry has the most lines, I don’t remember thinking that this production was only a chance for us to see how much or how well Brown could say his lines. Instead, his lines were in the context of the others on stage and for me, that created the illusion that the Chorus reminds us of in the end:

Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursu’d the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.

We the audience gave the cast and crew a standing ovation (a practice that I know some purists think we in the States do too much–praise a performance too quickly). And I think it was justified for this opening night of Henry V. For me I learned a bit more about a character and play that I personally enjoy. Also, this was one of those venues that you just don’t get to experience very often and the time with the Richmond Shakespeare Festival on the grounds of Agecroft was an extra treat for the long drive here and back home.

I couldn’t find any real food for dinner on the way back to the hotel, so I settled on Taco Bell and got to sleep around midnight. The Garmin 265 took me a route contrary to GoogleMaps, but the Karen voice lead me by Washington DC, toward Breezewood, PA, back to the Ohio Turnpike and home in the 10 or so hours promised. I finished Mercy and listened to a little more of the Mamma Mia soundtrack until I pulled into downtown Goshen. Relatives were there at our house, from out of town, and I took my stuff inside to see people eating Jimmy Johns.

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