Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Henry V

What would you do if you were an unruly prince who suddenly discovers that he wants to be king? We’ve enjoyed watching Shakespeare’s version of this tale in the two Henry IV plays, and it culminates in the ever-popular Henry V. A life of dissipation would not seem to prepare one to be king, but when John Tufts’ Henry turns his back on his barfly friends, it is a seminal moment of growing up.

Now, he is king. But France does not take him seriously. The Dauphin certainly does not, sending him a box of tennis balls to play with, abjuring him from ever coming to France. And so the tale is set and spun. We watch in joy as the young man grows in power, developing a canny political side, inspiring his troops in the face of seeming failure, and (in the end) softening to become an ardent wooer.

Tufts is, quite simply, magnificent. He has clearly grown into this role and inhabits it easily. I’ve enjoyed several of his past performances (notably, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo & Juliet), he is a skilled and accomplished actor. With this play he displays a (fitting) maturity and grace that I don’t feel I have seen before in him.

Applause also goes to the entire production for including deaf actor Howie Seago so perfectly in his role as the Duke of Exeter. His ‘reply’ to the Dauphin on King Henry’s behalf was absolutely perfect and clearly conveyed his sheer rage despite being completely soundless. Seago’s body language was that of a bear, protective towards this king whom he clearly loves, and lashing out at his detractors. The use of ASL as another language is a lovely counterpoint to the French spoken by the Princess of France and her maid – both languages highlight the wider world Henry is now a part of.

In the ensemble, everyone was great, there were no missteps. But I must call out the performance of Jeff King as Fluellen – the Welsh lord of staunch valor and plain speaking. His interpretation was sublime, and although I could wish his accent was a bit cleaner (especially in the scene with Brent Hinkley’s MacMorris), his physicality was a joy to watch.

Since 1997 I have been seeing plays at OSF, and this production is in my Top Ten of all time.