Shakespeare Santa Cruz hits one out of the park with ‘Henry V’
Shakespeare Santa Cruz has earned a sterling reputation for presenting the playwright’s classics in a contemporary light that everyone—from the seasoned theatergoer to the Shakespeare novice, and now Game of Thrones fans—can appreciate.
In its latest production, “Henry V,” which runs Aug. 6-Sept. 1 at the majestic Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen, SSC presents the final segment of the trilogy preceded by 2011’s “Henry IV Part One” and 2012’s “Henry IV Part Two.” Though less well known than, say, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare’s “history plays”—if you can get past the dull moniker—have their own share of action, wit and humor.
“Henry V” tells the story of King Henry V of England, whom SSC regulars will remember as the disobedient and carefree “Prince Harry” from the first two installments. He may now have a fancy title and the body of a grown man, but in the first scene of the play, Henry appears to have retained much of his boyish fury, over-inflated ego, and rash decision-making, not unlike the despicable King Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones.
For those unfamiliar with HBO’s cult-favorite TV show, Tyrion Lannister, another character on Game of Thrones, described Joffrey best when he said, “We’ve had vicious kings, and we’ve had idiot kings … but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!” Both Henry and Joffrey have obtained positions of great power at a young age, only to be patronized and mocked. With no patience for either, both kings use violence as a means of establishing authority.
What separates the two characters, however, is Henry’s unexpected character arc. While after three seasons of Game of Thrones, Joffrey keeps the top spot on our “People who deserve to be punched in the face” list, Henry’s character becomes increasingly likable over the course of the play. The explanation for that seems to be twofold.
For one, Henry’s conquest of France turns him into a rousing, and even empathetic leader, as he is forced to rely on the common people to help him win the Battle of Agincourt, during the Hundred Years’ War. Only when he is side by side with his fellow countrymen in the trenches is he able to see beyond his own ego and form a sense of community and pride for England.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the actor who plays Henry, SSC veteran Charles Pasternak, is superb. From the first scene to the last, Pasternak adds multiple dimensions to Henry’s character via body language, subtle glances, dramatic pauses, and attention-commanding delivery. When Henry’s enraged, the audience can feel the heat, and when he’s attempting to woo the French princess, Catherine of Valois—and failing miserably—it’s impossible not to blush.
In fact, the entire 30-member cast of “Henry V”—the same cast from “The Taming of the Shrew”—does an awe-inspiring job of transforming the minimalist, yet effective, Festival Glen—consisting of little more than a wooden stage, some scaffolding, and a few barrels and boxes (competing with the natural beauty of the redwoods would be a losing battle)—into early 15th century Europe. With short musical bursts and only a new prop or two indicating a scene change, it’s really up to the actors themselves and B. Modern’s ornate costuming to inform the audience of a change in location. One minute, we could be in the King of France’s castle and the next, we’re sailing on the high seas.
While the show has several standouts, a few scene stealers beg recognition. Kit Wilder and Marion Adler are gut-busting as the wacky, yet loveable, married couple Pistol and Mistress Quickly. Between her glass-shattering squeals and his wannabe tough guy act—his spit is visible from the audience as he shouts—the couple delivers much of the play’s comic relief.
SSC acting intern Alexandra Ho, who plays the nameless “Boy,” a young man who tags along with the aforementioned Pistol and his crew of thieving dimwits, may have a minor role, but she also commands attention every time she steps on stage. With a passionate delivery and humorous body language and facial expressions, Ho is one to watch.
And lastly, Beatrice Basso is adorable and hysterical as Catherine, the somewhat ditsy daughter of the King of France. From her first scene, in which Catherine is learning words in English with the help of her cheeky lady-in-waiting, to her character’s flirtatious back-and-forth with Henry later on, Basso lights up the Glen at every turn.
“Henry V” is not without imperfections—the play drags on a bit toward the end with a few too many monologues and, including the intermission, the play clocks in at just under three hours long. But, a satisfying character arc, actors of this caliber, an abundance of witty one-liners, and the opportunity to watch some of the best theater California has to offer while enjoying wine and cheese under the stars are impossible to beat.
“Henry V” runs Aug. 6-Sept. 1 at the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen, UCSC, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $16-46. For tickets and more information, visit shakespearesantacruz.org. Photo1: RR Jones Photo2: Byron Servies