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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 6, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Reviews: `Henry V’
There has always been something special about being
able to see the Belvedere Castle looming in the distance from your
seat in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. It is an especially
appropriate sight when seeing one of Shakespeare’s history plays.
Director Mark Wing-Davey’s stirring, politically savvy staging of
"Henry V" for the Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park (through
August 9) allows us to process, as expected, English history at its
most perilously imperialistic as well as our own country’s current
It is easy to understand how Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation was
admired for its patriotic zeal during the height of World War II,
and equally extolled more recently in Kenneth Branagh’s film version
for the playing up Henry as an impetuous imperialist. The inherent
ironies and the true meanings (if any exist) behind the double standard
speechifying seem to peak and ebb depending less on interpretations
than with the audience in attendance.
Find topical relevance as you may, but you might want to just sit
back and enjoy Wing Davey’s basically unthreatening (to either the
left or right wing) vision that finds a way to embrace as many centuries
as it does fashions and trends. Despite its three-hour length, you
won’t find a finer American actor to keep you enthralled than Liev
Schreiber, in the title role. It takes an actor of Schreiber’s resources,
most specifically his ability to speak the language with conviction,
to present to us a Henry who is not only a lovable liar and fraud
but a duplicitous schemer and savior, as well.
Of course, it is almost impossible to watch this play and not see
our own country and its president reflected in the course of the action.
The play, in which the success of a reckless young king, who, trying
to follow in the footsteps of his father, is eager to assure his court
of his ability to lead, will undoubtedly be seen by some as a parallel
to Bush and his administrative team. Forget the play’s eerie reminder
of how Henry may not even be the legitimate heir, the opening scene,
in which the king, keenly aware of the pressing and troublesome religious,
social and economic issues at hand, shrewdly uses war against France
as a diversionary tactic, are especially prescient.
But Wing-Davey’s approach is neither heavy-handed nor does it appear
to take a stand on whether Henry was as divinely inspired as Saint
Joan or merely buoyed his own vainglorious self-determination. If
Shakespeare purposely doesn’t make it crystal clear, why should Wing-Davey
or for that matter Schreiber, who in this case gives a performance
that resonates as a brilliantly balanced contradiction of rhetorical
bluster and self-effacing heroism.
The visually arresting setting, where in an instant a bloody battlefield
becomes a swimming pool for the condescending French at leisure, is
mostly, however, row upon row of gilt chairs, often overturned and
in piles, through the invention of designer Mark Wendland.
There are many fine performances on both sides of the breech, including
Ryan Shively, as the impudent Dauphin and Bronson Pinchot, as the
comical camp follower Pistol. The risque French lesson between coy
Princess Katherine (Nicole Leach) and Alice (Mercedes Herrero), her
lady-in-waiting, is charming. Herrero also doubles humorously as Pistol’s
lusty wife Mistress Quickly. But it isn’t the comical humor that lingers
on in "Henry V," but rather the incongruous humors of this
by-war-possessed king. HHH
— Simon Saltzman
Park. Free tickets may be picked up beginning at 1 p.m. only on the
day of performance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, or at
the Public Theater, at 425 Lafayette Street. Call 212-539-8750.
You have to hand it to young playwright Matthew Barber
for having the brass to write a new play that gives every indication
that it was written in 1922. Notwithstanding the fact that he has
affectionately adapted the 1922 novel of the same name by Elizabeth
von Arnim, which was previously adapted into two films: an insignificant
one in 1935 with Ann Harding and again more sumptuously in 1992 with
Joan Plowwright and Miranda Richardson, the playwright, who is making
his Broadway debut, has brought back what was known for years as the
ladies’ Wednesday matinee play.
This is not to say that gentlemen will not enjoy the bittersweet sentiments
and uplifting resolution that give sum and substance to the lives
of four Englishwomen who are renewed and refreshed by a springtime
sojourn to an Italian castle. Bedecked with wisteria blossoms, bathed
in sunlight, and hosted by the castle’s charming owner and the ever
present grousing maid, the Tuscany setting of Act II is as enchanting
as is the premise and the performances.
But first there is the dark and dreary London with which we and the
play’s heroines have to contend. By chance, Lotty Wilton (Jayne Atkinson)
and Rose Arnott (Molly Ringwald) read and respond with similar interest
to same advertisement. Though they do not know each other socially,
they belong to the same women’s club and see each other at church.
But, they are agreed, after a little commiserating, that getting away
from their respective husbands would not be a bad thing. As Lotty’s
husband Mellerish (Michael Cumpsty) is an arrogant condescending solicitor,
and Rose’s husband Frederick (Daniel Gerroll) is a writer of historical
romance novels and a bit of a scoundrel, they establish a bond that
is soon shared by the arrival of two more women co-renters.
There is the haughty Mrs. Graves (Elizabeth Ashley), whose overbearing
stiff-necked countenance is at once a hoot, and Lady Caroline (Dagmara
Dominczyk), a bored playgirl, who we find out has been carrying on
a flirtation with one of husbands. Yes, the husbands do find their
way to the retreat. But this doesn’t happen before the genuinely solicitous
and attractive landlord Antony Wilding (Michael Hayden), who is delighted
to be able to rent his old family home, has had a chance to shower
Lotty and Rose with many niceties, including those provided with humorous
dispatch by the barely agreeable housekeeper Constanza (Patricia Conolly).
A constant flow of humor is derived from the inability of the women
to speak any Italian and the housekeeper’s inability to speak any
English. Dealing with the bossy Mrs. Graves provides some amusing
moments, as much of a challenge at the start of the play as does the
unexpected arrival of Mellerish and Frederick at the end. Atkinson
is quite touching, as the pivotal emotional center of the play. I
thought Ringwald was a delight. Jane Adams (whom I have not seen)
is now playing her role.
As expected, Ashley presides with haute grandeur over the proceedings.
Cumpsty shows his comic mettle and exposes more than that in a hilarious
scene involving a broken hot water heater. Gerroll is excellent as
the rover who discovers that his passion is really closer to home
than he thought. And it’s as much fun to watch the especially winning
Hayden become an increasingly romanticized object as it is to see
the atypically cast Conolly becomes increasingly endearing. "Enchanted
April," has all the ingredients of a restorative. Whether or not
you are in the market for it, you have to decide. I had a lovely time.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. $45 to $80.
The Daughter-in-Law" by D.H. Lawrence could be called
the classic trunk play. It remained unknown to all but sleuths of
dramatic literature until 1965 when the first complete edition of
Lawrence’s plays first saw light of publication. Most trunk plays
are not very good. This one is surprisingly good, if not great.
Londoners have already had the privilege of seeing this play that
Lawrence wrote in 1913 when he was still a schoolteacher in Croydon.
It was probably written just prior to his most famous novel, "Sons
and Lovers." It is a treat to see a rediscovered play that confronts
similar social issues as the novel. It has been given an attentive,
respectful production by the Mint Theater, under the caring direction
of Martin L. Platt. Platt deserves high praise, as does the excellent
company. The play is clearly motivated by the sociological underpinnings
that existed during the time of a major coal miners strike. But more
specifically, the play deals with the emotional and economic turmoil
within a mining family in a small Nottinghamshire mining town, similar
to the region where Lawrence grew up.
It had to be a chore for the actors to master, as well
as they do, the play’s dense Eastwood dialect that amazingly becomes
easier to understand as the play progresses (a program glossary is
of great help). Because of the fine acting, the extent to which the
psychological frailties of the characters are revealed, and the up-front
juicy scandal that gets things rolling, it is easy to prick up our
ears to it. Because Lawrence’s dramatic writing skill is so wonderfully
in evidence, we are as fascinated by the play’s unfamiliar vocabulary
as we are by the tension created by the two Mrs. Gascoynes. There
is a dominating mother in one home, and in the other home, an atypically
(for the time and place) educated and independent young wife.
One Mrs. G (Mikel Sarah Lambert), a miner’s widow whose silver-cord
nurturing has produced two sons with deep psychological problems,
more easily characterized by her youngest Joe (Peter Russo) as deeply
Oedipal. Minnie (Angela Reed), the other Mrs. G, has more middle-class
expectations, as she has been employed as a governess before her recent
marriage to the older son, Luther (Gareth Saxe). Her class and good
breeding are clearly exemplified by the simple neatness and prettiness
that marks her home, as well as by her tolerance and patience. She
must try to cope with Luther’s sullen, non-communicative crude ways.
The plot thickens when it is revealed by a neighbor, Mrs. Purdy (Jodie
Lynne McClintock), that her daughter is going to have Luther’s baby.
It may sound like the old corned beef and cabbage plot, but it is
stuffed with the kind of gritty, insightful writing that Lawrence
is known for. Lambert is terrific at hiding her (s)mothering behind
her protective instincts and her not-quite contained opinion of her
new daughter-in-law. Russo gives a poignant account of an emotionally
crippled grown man.
The play gets much of its juice from the fierce and troubling confrontations
between the manly but immature Luther, and the tender but resilient
Minnie. As the neighbor, McClintock puts the right "nobody’s fool"
edge on her long-winded visits. Credit the time and place atmospherics
to designers Bill Clarke (sets) and Jeff Nellis (lighting) and Holly
Poe Durbin (costumes). But I’ll give most of the credit for the "chuntering,
blortin, and bletherin" (taken from the glossary in program) to
— Simon Saltzman
New York, 212-315-0231. $30.
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