Monday, August 5, 2013

The Fifth—Anon It Moves—Backdoor Theatre—SE Portland

"A Shadowy Place"


This is an adaptation or, as they put it, “fracturing,” of Shakespeare’s Henry V.  It plays at the Backdoor Theatre at 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. through August 25th.  It is directed by Erica Terpening-Romeo and presented by Anon It Moves as, I believe, their first and only production this year.  They have plans for another one next year.  For further information, go to their site at www.anonitmoves.org

Henry V is probably the most famous of Shakespeare’s histories.  Branagh’s film version is probably the definitive one, although Olivier’s is fine, as well as Welles’s Chimes At Midnight.  It is the story of an English hero in heroic times, like Arthur and Camelot, perhaps.  And much like our early American icons, like Crockett, Washington, Lewis & Clark, et. al.,  some are factual, much is legend, but they are rousing stories, nonetheless.  As one Hollywood producer proclaimed, if the facts and legends conflict, print the legend.

And so, it would seem, it is fair game to re-imagine, re-construct and re-evaluate Henry V and his times.  The play begins with playing cards being randomly being tossed on the ground, and the religious leaders trying to construct for the King, the rights of succession to the throne.  They become as muddled in their explanations as do the cards on the floor.  An apt beginning for an inept proposition.  Needless to say, Harry is King until someone says he’s not and deposes him.  And being King, he can damn well do what he feels like, and he feels like owning France, so he goes after it.

There are alliances made, promises broken; deals solidified, boundaries muddied; heroic gestures, dastardly deeds; and all in the name of politics.  “Absolute power corrupts…absolutely,” might be a relevant phrase.  Any resemblance to present day circumstances is…well, I’ll let you decide that.  In any case, after many alliances and mis-alliances, the English do win and, to cement that, Henry must marry the daughter of the King of France to conclude the deal (in reality, England lost the French land eventually, which now belongs to…well, the French.  Seems fitting, don’t ya think.) 

But, in this production, the style’s the thing, in which you’ll see the heart of this
troupe.  It is done on a bare stage, in modern dress, with chanting and dance-like movements and a cast of 10 will play about 50+ roles, mixing genders as they proceed.  After all, the definition of an actor is one who acts, having nothing to do with sex, age, race, etc.  In the program, they apologize for those expecting to see the “traditional” Henry V, as this is not it (although the language is all Shakespeare’s, simply edited and re-arranged).

Apology accepted, but I do miss the rousing St. Crispin’s Day monologue, as originally proffered; and the very moving story of the Boy who falls behind the lines; and the complex relationship with Mountjoy.  But, in tact, are the very amusing scenes with Katherine (Caitlin Fisher-Draeger), the princess of France, with Alice (Sarah Peters), her maid and also with Henry (Glenn McCumber); and the bombastic Pistol (James Peck) and his encounters on the battlefield; and the conversations on the war grounds with the soldiers, “a touch of Harry in the night.”  Nor did I miss the pageantry that accompanies many productions of the Bard, as it’s sometimes is pretty to look it but can be empty of content.

The shadow plays (akin, in Shakespeare’s times, to “dumb” shows), in which the actors play out, in mime and movement, various segments of the story.  These are quite amazing and are a highlight of this production.  As is the use of music, stylized movement and singing/chanting.  Terpening-Romeo has done an outstanding job of directing and molding the story and actors.  She is keenly aware of the narrative and is precise in her vision of how she interprets the work.  She is brave in attempting to transform an ancient story into controversial ways.  And it’s worth the effort.

The cast are all very good and are splendid in making the language conversational and, thus, more accessible to a modern audience.  But it’s somewhat hard to identify individual actors as to roles, as it is done in a storytelling fashion and the Chorus plays many parts.  But the two most prominent are Fisher-Draeger as Katherine, Mountjoy/Hearld, and others.  She is also the movement director.  She is a joy to watch and her scenes as Katherine are some of the best in the show.

And McCumber as Henry is astounding.  He pulls the language to earth-level and we discover the man of the King, not just the royal mantle (in my opinion, he is better than OSF’s Henry).  Being up close and personal works (less than 50 seats in the theatre), in his and the play’s favor, as we see the heartbeat, not just the blood, of the participants.  I hope he continues with this career.

I recommend this production.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.