Tyler Tate & Zachary Burrell in Henry V. Photo: Jon Cherry

Henry V

By William Shakespeare
Edited by Gregory Maupin
Directed by Amy Attaway

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

If memory serves, Amy Attaway’s first production for Kentucky Shakespeare was Henry V in 2014. Now she returns to a play that is arguably the most popular of Shakespeare’s histories. If you work for a company almost exclusively devoted to the works of the most famous writer in the English language, multiple encounters with a play come with the territory. Most directors welcome it.

For this iteration, Attaway is wrapping up her ambitious run of the four plays in the Henry Tetralogy; Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and 2, and finally, after a year’s delay owing to the pandemic, Henry V. A singular vision for all four plays that carry a through-line in design and casting, it emerges as a triumphant last chapter on many levels. 

This time around I think the production gets at the heart of why the land-grabbing King of England is so difficult to fit for the cloak of Imperial totalitarianism. He puts on a fair show of resolute confidence but we also see the vulnerability of a young prince still searching for the character of a king. Attaway also makes good use of humor to illuminate the history of the conflicts, allowing Gregory Maupin’s Archbishop of Canterbury to satirize the dense and indecipherable explanation of why Henry should invade France by playing it at a Pythonesque verbal gallop. And while we don’t expect to take the French Dauphin seriously, I can’t remember him ever being as funny as Will DeVary’s skilled buffoonery here. 

The interactions of soldiers Fluellen (Maupin again), Pistol (Kyle Ware), Bardolph (Jon Patrick O’Brien), and Nym (Mollie Murk), none of whom wear a proper uniform, along with Henry’s famous eve-of-the-battle walk through the encampment build insight into the reality of individualism within the ranks. The French troops sport proper fleur-de-lis tunics and seem stalwart enough, but never register forcefully as characters. Is Henry’s victory also a triumph of scruffy individualism over mindless nationalism? 

Maupin also did the cutting of the text, and is his generosity to the “grunts” because it gives him the chance to show off a well-observed and fluent dialect for his Fluellen? Or is it so terrific players like Maupin, Jennifer Pennington, and Kyle Ware can deliver expository exchanges in fuller measure than may be typical? I am not convinced that the scene with the leek is necessary, but who can deny the pleasure of seeing Maupin and Ware bring a touch of that Le Petomane energy back to us? While I believe all of those are worthwhile reasons, I feel certain that it was to bring focus to the nameless, faceless members of “this band of brothers.” One of Shakespeare’s better speeches is but one example of Henry emphasizing the bond that comes from facing death together.

It is a pleasure to have watched Zachary Burrell track the journey of Prince Hal from brothels and petty thieving to heroic monarch, and he adroitly occupies the space of grounded people’s monarch. Burrell easily connects with the audience, and Attaway well exploits that degree of endearment. An often cut or reduced flashback to Hal with Falstaff reminds us of the prince’s roots in the gutter and allows one more opportunity to relish J. Barrett Cooper’s expert comic bluster as the fat knight.

Hallie Dizdarevic and Jennifer Pennington return as Doll and Mistress Quickly in that scene as well and do notable duty in other roles. As the French Queen Isabel, Ms. Dizdarevic looks far more intimidating than her King, who Jon Huffman carefully essays as underwhelming and distracted. History knows him as quite mad, but there is hope in Katherine, the Princess of France, given a full-throated reading with a touch of sass by Mollie Murk. Somewhat improbable, Henry professes his love for her in the famous wooing scene, but it reinforces the crucial sense of the English King’s humility and Murk makes certain we know that Henry’s new queen might herself be a force to be reckoned with. 

The Chorus is a meaningful role in the Histories because there can be a lot to explain, and Attaway follows recent tradition by breaking it up among various members of the ensemble but mostly it falls to Dizadeveric, whose easy authority is always welcome. If I might pick one nit in this otherwise stellar production, Isabel’s furry vest over a long, flowing gown never quite felt right to me, even if Dizdarevic moves with a commanding grace while wearing it.

Late in the action, there is a lot of fighting, well managed by Fight Director Eric Frantz. Bold and brutal, these scenes are not random exchanges but take care to serve the narrative. Most of the cast get to join in this fun, and Henry is not a King to watch from the sidelines, again reinforcing the populist approach of this monarch.

The only problem is, what does Attaway do next? How does she follow The Game of Kings?

Featuring Zachary Burrell, J. Barrett Cooper, Will DeVary, Hallie Dizdarevic, Alex Gordon, Jon Huffman, Tom Luce, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Braden McCampbell. Molly Murk, Jon Patrick O’Brien, BeeBee Patillo, Jennifer Pennington, Tony Reimonenq III, Gregory Sanders, Tyler Tate, Shaquille Towns, & Kyle Ware        

Henry V

July 9 – 20, 22, 24, 28, 30, & August 1, 2021

Shakespeare Festival in Central Park
C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater
1340 S. Fourth St.
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 574-990

Shakespeare in Love
July 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, & 31, 2021

Admission is free. Everyone welcome, including pets.
Food trucks open at 6:30 pm; Will’s Tavern begins serving at 7:00 pm
Pre-Show begins at 7:15 pm, with main stage production at 8:00 pm

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.