Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Henry V—OSF—Ashland, OR

“...Sleeping Swords of War”

    This production was written by the Bard, W. Shakespeare, and directed by Rosa Joshi.  It is playing at the Thomas Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, in repertory, through October.  For more information, go to their site at www.osf.ashland.org

   “And now the spring is wound up tight.”  This is the sign of Henry’s times…and all eras of warlords.  The timeclock of the power mongers is being stretched to the max.  Conflict is inevitable in these situations and the coils are apt to burst.  Now is the time for the “sleeping swords” to awaken and sing their death dirge!

     Warfare is a private affair that only the profane understand.  Why do countries/peoples insist on putting innocence at bay and destroying civilizations?  It is beyond most mortals understanding and yet it happens all too frequently.  You only have to witness our present-day circumstances to see that it continues to multiply.  When will it end and Mankind embrace the prospect of compassion for all living things?!  A Creator must weep and intone, “look what they’ve done to my Song.”

     The characters in this “human comedy” are the King of England (and France, too, depending on your viewpoint), Henry V (Daniel José Molina).  He has since shed the shackles of his frivolous youth, as Hal,  as well as his rotund and endearing friend, Falstaff, and now must make do with “the winds of war.”  His adversary in this duel is the King of France, Charles VI (Rex Young) and his son, the Dauphin (Moses Villarama).

     Henry’s companions in this battle for men’s souls, include his ole cronies from the Falstaff era, Pistol (Kimberly Scott), a fellow whose tongue is long on wit but short on action; Bardolph (Robert Vincent Frank), a scalawag whose loose actions take a deadly turn; Nym (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), who may be dense as a cucumber but long on loyalty; and Boy (Jessica Ko), an innocent, seeking a “brave new world” even in “the cannon’s mouth.”

     There are other loyal subjects, too, the Lords that valiantly form an alliance with the King, like the Duke of Exeter (Tyrone Wilson), Henry’s uncle; the Duke of Bedford (Jeremey Gallardo), Henry’s brother; the Earl of Westmoreland (Christopher Salazar); and the Earl of Salisbury (Shyla Lefner), as well as countless soldiers and peasants on both sides.  And the women, too, the backbone of any Nation, like Mistress Quickly (Michele Mais), the proprietor of an alehouse, and the French Princess, Katherine, (Ko, again), who is the salve, for a while anyway, “to soothe the savage beast.”  These are the noble “band of brothers” that form the alliances for this never-ending story.  To experience this complicated but meaningful story, you must see it for yourself.

     Keep in mind this extraordinary crew of twelve actors play over forty roles in the Bard’s, perhaps, greatest play, of the histories and it certainly has the best monologue of this genre, the rousing, “St. Crispin’s Day” speech.  It also, for all it’s bravado displaying the “dogs of war,” gives both a grand panorama of nation building/destroying, as well as portraying a microcosm of both the common man, and the nobles involved, in less than a three-hour time span.  This production ranks (with Branagh’s excellent film of the same story) as the best interpretations of this epic tale, in my opinion!

     The story highlights both the glories of such ventures, such as the above-mentioned speech; to the smallest of gestures, when gloves are exchanged in the defense of honor; to deadly, personally painful examples being made to maintain discipline; and yet, a soft voice of a Lady, will make even the strongest of men kneel.  Such is the nature, too, of Warfare.  Joshi has done an amazing job piecing it all together into such a human fabric of our existence.  And her Cast is the thread that holds it all together.  She keeps it moving at a break-neck pace with the simplest of devices, and yet it never loses the gist of the story.  Kudos to her and her team!

     But, standing a notch above a stellar cast, is Molina, as Henry, having progressed through his “Hal” stages in the Henry IV’s, now has delivered the coup de grace in this final epic.  He is nothing short of terrific!  Also standing tall, too, is Scott, as Pistol, whose physical gestures gives credence to a sad, blustering and witty fellow who has no equal, an image of his own mind and making.  And Ko is terrific, in her three major portrayals, as the naïve Boy; as the elfin French princess; and the conflicted Montjoy, a messenger with a heart, all portrayals, spot on.  She is a treasure and makes those roles sparkle!

     It should be noted that, with all the artistic joy this production of the Henry trilogy brings, it is sad to report that G. Valmont Thomas, who portrayed Falstaff, one of the great comic characters in all of the Bard’s Canon, has passed on.  He was, as I observed, one of a kind in that role.  He will be sorely missed!

     I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

                                  The Black Sheep

     As followers of this blog probably already know, this is my favorite place in all of Ashland to eat and imbibe.  My friends and I (one a Brit) ate at least 3 meals here this trip.  Our orders ranged from the fish pie, to the pasty, to Mum’s Favorite Dinner on Sunday’s menu, to Irish Stew and Shepherd’s Pie with nary a bad morsel anywhere!  They also have homemade desserts and soups, also both excellent.  Their cuisine is of the British Isles, appropriate for a Shakespearean township, with a full bar and traditional Brit beers, too.  Throughout the week they also have entertainment at various times and they stay open late after the plays are over.  Clarinda, the owner, exudes warmth; Greg, the bar manager, treats you like an old friend; and Raquel, is a real charmer with a winning smile, are often there and are part of the reason I keep coming back…it feels like home, family.  In fact, it is their motto, a place “where you belong!”  I highly recommend this place and mention my name, if you go there, to one of them.  Check out their site, too:  www.theblacksheep.com and look for the red door.


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