nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
July 24, 2008
The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot production of William Shakespeare's Henry V begins with the Chorus—one woman wearing a white, form-fitting dress and brown cowboy boots and walking with the assistance of a cane—addressing the audience. She says that a story is about to be told that will include a great battle and tell the story of a king. As she says this, dozens of actors walk to the stage from the audience and begin to dress in costume pieces, speaking softly among themselves, laughing, and looking at the audience. She points to the parking lot and tells the audience she is going to need their help. We must invoke our imaginations to see in the parking lot an enormous battlefield and in the 21 actors two mighty armies. The actors disperse. The Chorus asks for our patience and leaves us to the play. The story begins.
I love summer Shakespeare.
The Drilling Company makes good on the Chorus's promise, using the Municipal Parking Lot at Ludlow and Broome to great effect. The play is staged against, behind, in front of, and atop a painted metal fence. The actors run through the audience, address them, and at one point run around a surrounding building. They use only necessary props and set pieces, and when used, they are suggestive and pragmatic rather than decorative. This simplicity applies to the costuming as well. The English are clothed in red, the French in blue. Actors playing multiple roles are given accessories such as hats, scarves, gloves, and names printed on the back of their shirts to help the audience distinguish one character from another.
There is also the matter of time. While The Drilling Company uses modern equipment to tell the story—King Henry begins the show speaking into a Bluetooth headset; the English and French negotiate via mobile and speaker phones; one of Henry's generals, Westmoreland, negotiates with the French with the help of an assistant using Post-it notes and a dry-erase board—there is no attempt to modernize the play, to make it a play about our current situation. At times, the use of this equipment created some distractions. A soliloquy recited by Henry into a Bluetooth headset as if he were speaking to one of his advisors, for example, erases the confessional quality of his speech and isolates him from the audience rather than revealing his train of thought or communicating a conflicted state of mind. But I admire director Laura Strausfeld's decision to take the Chorus's request to use our imaginations seriously and not use the play to comment on our current war. This decision shows great trust in both the play and the audience, allowing us to make their own connections and divisions between our current situation and the ones enfolding onstage.
There are several good performances on display in the Parking Lot. Selene Berretta's Chorus effectively conveys the tone from scene to scene as she informs the audience of the various changes of location. (Her turn as MacMorris showcases a talent for accents and weight-bearing devices.) Sam Underwood plays the Dauphin as a driven and conflicted soul and brings dignity to a role I've seen infantilized too many times. Camillia Rahberry and Ivory Aquino make great sport of both their characters—Alice and Katherine, respectively—with special mention going to the latter for treating the final wooing scene with King Henry with both charm and grim reality.
There were moments while watching Henry V that I wanted the actors to play with the audience more—to involve them in the action with a wink, a smile, a confession, or an angry lash; and there are flickers of such moments throughout the play. I wanted them to concentrate less on their accents and cell phones and more on their text and incidents driving their actions. I saw the production on opening night, though, and believe that once they become more comfortable—which, given the talent involved, should take less time than it takes me to write this review—there will be no stopping this production from telling this story of a battle between two great nations, the people who fight it, the leaders responsible and the responsibilities of those leaders, the consequences of waging war and the making of a great King.
Get thee to the Municipal Parking Lot then, and enjoy. You won't be disappointed.