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St. Crispin's Day
by Les Gutman
On the opening night of Matt Pepper's St. Crispin's Day, New York will be ending its first full day of Summer, 2003 -- the longest day, and thus the shortest night, of the year. On-stage however, for the mangy soldiers of Henry V, King of England, camped at Agincourt, it will be a particularly long night.
Shakespeare rendered the bleak night memorably and poetically. Worn out and discouraged, the troops were roused by a sovereign in disguise, an example having been made of the looting Bardolph and his gang by their execution; Henry's famous St. Crispin's Day speech became their call to arms. Those conversant in the fulcrum of Shakespeare's history plays will find much familiar in Mr. Pepper's retelling, which laces Henry V into a back story, as cheekily staged by Simon Hammerstein, worthy of Monty Python.
Here, Bardolph (Richard Liccardo), Nym (Michael Gladis) and Pistol (Tommy Schrider) are a predictably bawdy bunch, with flexible sexual appetites (and, in the latter case, lice); Fluellen's (Darren Goldstein) military swagger is mixed with a lustful interest in his men -- in particular, one named Tom (Denis Butkus); and the second-class Irish soldier Will (David Wilson Barnes) has a scheme in mind to avert war by kipnapping the king and delivering him (for a bounty) to the French monarch. Two prostitutes (Lauren Berst and Mayhill Fowler, speaking first in French but later with American accents) and a Benedictine monk (Lee Blair) also figure in the tale.
Attention to detail and sensibility is everything in this production, and all parties concerned execute very well indeed. Simon Hammerstein's direction is well paced and successful in getting his entire cast on the same page. All of the performances are quite fine, and do a great job of marrying the Bard with the broader humor in play here. Michael Moore's set makes ingenious use of a few dozen yards of canvas and a lot of rope, while Charlene Gross manages to come up with costumes that are right on target.
One can get caught up in attaching significance to this play as an anti-war statement, or perhaps one against greed. One might also contemplate what in it could be fleshed out better. But it would be a mistake. This is a night when even critics should be allowed just to have a good time.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF SHAKESPEARE'S HENRY V
Henry V in London (RNT)
Henry V in London (RSC)
Henry V in NY
Henry V in the Berkshires
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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