Theater of Battle
Shakespeare's Henry V is already an Elizabethan Bruckheimer movie—violent, revisionist and unabashedly patriotic—and the Stages Theater production helmed by Brian Kojac (who also dons the crown of the title character) is equally Bruckheimerian: loud, full of cheesy music and real fun to watch. The story follows the young King Henry, now fully evolved from the wantonness of his youth, as he invades France to take back lands that are rightfully his. The decidedly anti-French sentiment of the play feels almost apropos in this time of Perrier boycotts and "liberty fries," but Kojac gives his villains the poise to offset the stereotypical preening and posturing that Shakespeare burdened them with. The script has just as many explosions and dogfights as Pearl Harbor, but in lieu of computer imagery, Shakespeare has put the majority of them in the lines of the Chorus, here flawlessly voiced by Rick Franklin. It's a tactic that modern screenwriters may want to revisit, since Hollywood has yet to produce a siege as grand as Franklin's taking of Harfleur or a battle as magnificent as his Agincourt. Also like Pearl Harbor, Henry Vhas a somewhat hurried and tacked-on love story. However, this happens to be some of Shakespeare's most charming writing, and the role of the love interest, Princess Katharine of France, is handled well by Laura Lynn Orlow, who parles the francais as easily as her English. Other standouts in this very uneven cast are Arthur Kraft as the King of France; Matt Freeman as the Duke of Exeter; Erica Anderson as the Princess' maid, Alice; and Kojac himself, whose Henry is both powerful and surprisingly tender.
In a time when war means missiles, bombs and chemicals, it's nice to visit the days when you actually had to look someone in the eyes if you wanted to kill him. And if you're willing to ignore Shakespeare's rank banner-waving, this is one hell of a way to make that visit.
Henry V at Stages, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through March 30. $12-$15.
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