BRAD GODA / HAWAII SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
Watching the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival's well-executed production of "Henry V," it's easy to see why some of Shakespeare's "history plays" are presented less often than others. Last year's production of "King John" included a harrowing scene in which a ruthless but impeccably honorable man was torn between the conflicting demands of duty and honor. Regardless of your interest in 13th-century English politics, the scene addressed a timeless issue and was riveting theater.
Place: The ARTS @ Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Time: 7:30 Thursday through Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 Thursday, $14 Sunday and $18 Friday and Saturday
Call: 550-8457 or visit HonoluluBoxOffice.com
"Henry V," which takes place almost exactly 200 years later, contains no such humanistic conundrum. Although the script contains some of The Bard's best-known lines -- Henry's battlefield exhortation "Once unto the breach, dear friends," for one -- even first-timers who know neither Shakespeare nor the outcome of the Battle of Agincourt will find little reason to invest emotionally.
The play would certainly have resonated with 17th-century English audiences in reaffirming their sense of inherent superiority over the arrogant French and various other peoples. But for contemporary audiences, Henry goes from triumph to triumph with, to borrow a phrase from a later conqueror of France, the "self-assurance of a sleepwalker."
For all of that, however, director Tony Pisculli's all-female cast makes the show eminently watchable.
Elizabeth Wolfe, seen last year starring opposite Mark Gilbert in the festival's staging of "Taming of the Shrew," gives a commanding performance in the title role. Wolfe has the stature and regal presence of a monarch and delivers Henry's rousing speeches with appropriate emotion. Yes, we would stand with her at Agincourt!
The only blip on opening night came during the scene in which Henry romances his future wife and, in this production, gives her several lingering kisses. The "girl-on-girl" embrace between Wolfe and Eleanor C. Svaton (Katherine of Valois) was, alas, too much for some of the juvenile members of the audience to watch in silence, but Wolfe and Svaton carried on despite the reaction from the peanut gallery.
Pisculli's production succeeds on other fronts with the ensemble work of two teams of veteran performers. Ann Brandman (Nym), Betty Burdick (Pistol) and Margaret McAleavey (Bardolph) bring Shakespeare's earthy, working-class humor to life playing a trio of common soldiers. Eden-Lee Murray Jellinek (Gower) and Peggy Anne Siegmund (Fluellen) stick it to the upper classes equally well with scene-stealing performances as a pair of motor-mouth officers who speak with distinct regional accents.
As for the French, with two exceptions they are as two-dimensional as the stereotypical Nazis of modern pop fiction. Michelle Umipeg (Dauphin) and Morgan Alicia Smith (Constable) lead the pack of designated villains with appropriately overdrawn characterizations.
Shakespeare evidently held the French king in higher esteem. Denise-Aiko Chinen (King Charles), a versatile veteran of pidgin theater productions for Lisa Matsumoto and Kumu Kahua, makes a promising debut at the festival with her portrayal of the pragmatic monarch who becomes Henry's father-in-law.