Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Henry V’ stirs the imagination in Baileys Harbor

Critic At Large

Door Shakespeare

English King Henry V (Eric Schabla) rallies his forces against France in the Door Shakespeare production of “Henry V.” (Company photo)

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BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV)

Those were the goode olde days. We were brave against all odds. We had our faults, we oddball band of brothers, but we pulled through. Victory! And we couldn’t have done it without goode ol’ Harry. What a guy. What a great leader.

Sound like William Shakespeare?

Nah. Shakespeare says it better. And with a lot more flair.

But that is the gist of “Henry V,” being presented this summer outdoors at Bjorklunden garden by Door Shakespeare. Twenty-four performances remain to Aug. 24. (Saturday night’s performance even came with a scent; lilacs were in bloom near the performance area).

This is the first time in the professional company’s 25 years that it has offered “Henry V.”

The play has the feel of a documentary, a re-telling of historical events from one glorified perspective – a kind of high-level marketing.

Recounted is the Battle of Agincourt of 1415, when the outmanned British whupped the French on their own ground.

In “Henry V,” the victor’s spoils include the hand of (in marriage, not from the bloody battlefield) Princess Katherine of France to end the play on a happy, romantic note.

A storyteller, called Chorus, plants the seeds of imagination in the audience. Chorus (Matt Daniels, who also directs with luster) sets the action in motion and then revisits at key times.

Particularly robust are scenes before and during the battle, with Door Shakespeare’s natural backdrop and time of day (for night performances) heightening effects.

Before: It’s the middle of the night, and Chorus and key players from the opposing sides beam flashlights on their faces, creating a haunting aura. The degrees of anticipation – from eager to fearful – are there. In disguise and in the dark, Henry V makes his way around his camp to fire up his men, though not always successfully (forming a side story that returns as a kind of epilogue).

During the battle: Soldiers of both armies are marshalled around the stage, weapons at the ready in red lighting. From vantage points above the action (a platform on Door Shakespeare’s impressive maple tree) cryptic orders are called out by Henry V (Eric Schabla) and Louis the Dauphin, Prince of France (Elyse Edelman). The battle erupts, and mayhem breaks loose. The main weapons in this case are swords. Those weapons in this case are rounded balusters from the set’s staircase.

Most of the play is the before and the after of the battle.

What transpires for the audience is an experience that Door Shakespeare is so good at – giving color and meaning and immediacy to Shakespeare’s words. Not that everything is 100 percent understandable. The language is 1599, not 2019, and Shakespeare’s way of turning a phrase turns seldom-used corners in the contemporary brain. Still, Shakespeare can be – sha-zam! – stimulating.

Rooted in dedication to craft – and more specifically the craft of things Shakespearean – the performances tend to have a certain stride.

As Henry V, Eric Schabla embraces the idealism of a youthful king who tries to do the right thing. Schabla taps elements of toughness, of determination, of shyness.

Interesting roles and performances are all around.

Michael Herold portrays one of the baddies, Pistol, who does whatever necessary to get by.

Also colorful is Dan Klarer as Captain Fluellen, always excitable in word and action in a dangerously comical, comically dangerous way. (That’s Shakespeare for you).

“Henry V” is heavy in male characters. A repertory company, Door Shakespeare runs out of males for all the parts, so – voila – women step into male roles. Most prominent are Allie Babich as the French herald Montjoy (and others) and Elyse Edelman as Louis the Dauphin (and others). Babich and Edelman also have a dual scene of a male-female couple wooing across two languages that is a bit of a brain twister.

An important feature in this production, I think, has to do with the phrase, “band of brothers.” The phrase is very familiar today. It’s interesting that its origin seems to be from Shakespeare. Rallying his forces, King Henry V says, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brothers…” That’s quite stirring. Now, how can that be said visually? The answer may lie in costuming. Everyone wears black. And the black includes black leather. The black has a uniformity, a banding. One image is that of biker black, that band of brothers being a kind of bickering, rag-taggy force like the English in the play (but don’t tell any roughneck bikers I said so). For whatever reason, the all-black look didn’t happen by accident.

Also not by accident, the actors do their warmups – their stretching, their practicing of a few lines, their vocalese, back pats/head pats among themselves for camaraderie – as they drift around the stage. Some even chat with audience members. Maybe the loosey-goosey warmup thingie is to leaven the undertone of threat from the all-black.

‘Tis not an average time at Door Shakespeare, this “Henry V.”

***

Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Matt Daniels; costume designer – Kim Instenes; scenic and properties designer – Jody Sekas; music director/composer – Scott McKenna Campbell; lighting designer – Todd Mion; fight director – Dan Klarer; production stage manager – Kira Neighbors; assistant stage manager – Camille C. Nierengarten; producing artistic director – Michael Stebbins; managing director – Amy Ensign

Cast:

Chorus, presenter of the play – Matt Daniels

(The English)

King Henry V – Eric Schabla

Duke of Exeter, uncle to the King – Mark Corkins

(Brothers to the King)

Duke of Gloucester – Mikkel Knutson

Duke of Bedford – Elyse Edelman

(Cousins to the King)

Earl of Westmoreland – Scott McKenna Campbel

Duke of York – Carrie Hitchcock

(English nobles, traitors to the King)

Earl of Cambridge – Dan Klarer

Lord Scroop of Masham – Elliott Brotherhood

Sir Thomas Grey – Emily Holland

(Clergy)

Archbishop of Canterbury – Michael Stebbins

Bishop of Ely – James Carrington

(Former companions to Henry and Falstaff)

Hostess Quickly – Carrie Hitchcock

Pistol, her husband and an ensign in Henry’s army – Michael Herold

Nym, a corporal in Henry’s army – Ken Miller

Bardolph, a lieutenant in Henry’s army – Jarrod Langwinski

Robin, their servant

(Officers in Henry’s army)

Captain Gower – James Carrington

Captain Fluellen, a Welshman – Dan Klarer

Captain Macmorris, an Irishman – Allie Babich

Captain Jamy, a Scotsman – Jarrod Langwinski

Sir Thomas Erpingham – Michael Stebbins

(Soldiers in Henry’s army)

John Bates – Jarrod Langwinski

Alexander Court – Emily Holland

Michael Williams – Elliott Brotherhood

English Herald – Ken Miller

(The French)

King Charles VI – Michael Stebbins

Queen Isabel – Carrie Hitchcock

Louis the Dauphin, Prince of France – Elyse Edelman

Katherine, Princess of France – Elyse Edelman

Alice, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine

(French nobles)

Constable of France – Ken Miller

Duke of Orleans – Elliott Brotherhood

Duke of Bourbon – Emily Holland

Montjoy, the French herald – Allie Babich

Le Fer, a French soldier – Jarrod Langwinski

The Governor of Harfleur – Scott McKenna Campbell

French Messenger – Mikkel Knutson

Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. July 2, 4; 5 p.m. July 6; 7:30 p.m. July 9, 11; 5 p.m. July 13; 7:30 p.m. July 16, 18; 5 p.m. July 20; 7:30 p.m. July 23, 25; 5 p.m. July 27; 7:30 p.m. July 30, Aug. 1; 5 p.m. Aug. 3; 7:30 p.m. Aug 6, 8; 5 p.m. Aug. 10; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 15; 5 p.m. Aug. 17; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20, 22, 5 p.m. Aug. 24

Info: doorshakespeare.com

***

ALSO: “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” presented in rotation by many of the same players.

THE VENUE: The Door Shakespeare theater space is outdoors at Bjorklunden, a 425-acre estate on the shore of Lake Michigan south of Baileys Harbor on the east side of Door County. The performance area is a limestone-lined patch of wood chips beneath a majestic, eye-catching 70-foot maple tree with shaggy bark. For “Henry V,” performance entrances and exits are along aisles, from areas stage left or stage right and from two-story staircase and balcony surrounding the tree. The seating configuration accommodates about 160 is on three platforms arcing around the performance space. This site was used in the past by Door Shakespeare; the seating faced the opposite way toward a grove of cedars in recent years. The theater is about a mile of winding road off of Highway 57. Bjorklunden is owned by Lawrence University of Appleton, though Door Shakespeare is a stand-alone entity.

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