‘Henry V’ production proves simplicity can still be quality

By - Jun 3rd, 2009 05:57 am
Review:  Quasi-Productions’ Henry V
at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre
Produced by Brian Miracle and Tom Reed
Directed by Todd Denning
Runs: 175 minutes (including 15 min. intermission)

The one thing any Shakespeare play doesn’t need in order to be successful is extraneous sensationalism. The Bard’s text alone often makes the plays so dense that any effort to heighten them with elaborate or ornate design elements can seem like depreciation. With language so beautiful, characters so rich, and dramatic turns so engaging – all Shakespeare needs for a quality production is a talented and dedicated cast, supported by equally worthy direction. With Milwaukee’s Quasi-Production staging of Henry V, a vast array of talent has assembled to create a simple but highly engaging depiction of the solidarity of soldiers, the beauty of love, and the power of unity.

Henry V tells the story of a young man who starts off as reckless and criminal but eventually lays claim to the French crown by invasion. Through eloquent oratory and inspiring example, he leads his English troops to victory despite being heavily outnumbered by the over-confident French army.

Historical plays can have a stigma of boredom attached to them, but the cast and crew manages to avoid any lulling to continually engage the audience. In the first moments of the play, the full ensemble appears in the darkness with lit candles-a simple but effective technique that captivates. A lingering wisp of smoke swirls about the stage throughout the entire play, transporting everyone to another time and place.

By focusing on the performances and the language, Quasi-Productions has done service to Shakespeare and the medium of theatre. Todd Denning’s concise direction meshes well with the design and acting to create an alluring stage presentation. The assembled cast performs a clear and interesting interpretation with characterizations abundant in creative physical and verbal attributes; Tim Linn and Tom Reed are frighteningly barbaric, with bulldozer-like demeanor; Bonnie Auguston is believable both as a naive Boy and as the French-speaking Katherine. Even Marcy Kearns acts as an exceptional protean of the cast with costume changes, dialects and gestures executed in clean transition for each of her four roles.

A symmetrical set of steps connected by three platforms comprises the entire set on the Helfaer Theatre stage – in line with the bare bones production concept – and manages to provide an ironic commentary on the anything-but-simple reality of war. Jason Fassl’s lighting is beautiful and subtle, lending emotional texture but never drawing direct attention. As a conceptual echo, costumes bring a relaxed but effective wholeness  to the overall design with  pieced-together robes, vests, jeans, cloaks and overcoats.

The production as a whole is great, and there are numerous stand-alone scenes that make attending Henry V a worthwhile viewing. Kearns’s portrayal of MacMorris thrills and titillates, while Henry’s wooing of Katherine is funny and genuine. It’s not only fun theatre, but as good as any that’s been performed in Milwaukee – proof that a level of quality can be reached without an extravagant bankroll.

Henry V continues at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre through 6/7with Thursday – Saturday 7:30 p.m. shows, and a Sunday 2 p.m. matinee. Contact 414.305.1324 ext. 706 or 414.288.7250 for information.

You can visit Footlights Magazine for ticketing information on a variety of shows and events in Milwaukee.

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