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Review: This ‘Henry V’ may need a muse and a map

It takes a deft hand to bring “Henry V” to the stage, and that missing touch makes the Acting Company/Guthrie Theater production so maddening. The elements are there — from actors to staging to interpretation — but it never gels into a cohesive whole.

Instead, we get a host of discrete moments that jumble together uncomfortably, all in search of narrative drive. The Guthrie production is only the first stage of a long tour, so perhaps they’ll find their muse somewhere on the road. I don’t think they’ll find it the few short weeks at the Joe Dowling Studio.

Shakespeare’s history play delves into the decisive battles in France that took Henry V from being “Prince Hal” to a fully fledged monarch. As portrayed by Matthew Amendt, Henry is driven by matters of glory and honor, rarely pausing to contemplate his course. Amendt does well with Henry’s big speeches, and shows a great playfulness in the character’s more human moments, but he doesn’t always link those two aspects together. It’s as if he’s crafted two completely different characters under one name.

The other 11 actors take on an array of roles and share the Chorus character. With so much action and characters to define, the actors often go for broad strokes — from the effete French to thick-accented British — without always pausing to add depth. When you add in director Davis MacCallum’s middle-of-the-road approach, you have a show lacking in focus. Every moment seems to have the same importance, which magnifies the small, human moments and reduces the larger-than-life drama to the level of a Lifetime original movie.

Henry V” runs through Feb. 1 at the Joe Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis. ($22 to $30). Call 612-377-2224 or visit online.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Brad Richason on 01/19/2009 - 09:56 am.

    Maybe we saw it on different nights, but I had no trouble reconciling the sides of King Henry as portrayed by Amendt. For me, Amendt nailed the king’s acceptance of responsibility – what he must sacrifice for leadership.

    The only tonal shift that felt jarring was the final courtship scene – which does seem like the beginning of another play – perhaps a romantic comedy. It really does stand at odds with the work’s predominent tone.

    At any rate, my review is posted at

  2. Submitted by JR Fisher on 02/05/2009 - 08:23 pm.

    Just caught the show in West Lafayette at Purdue and HATED it! So disappointed. From the beginning with the dark set, horrible sound system, and odd costumes.

    Couldn’t understand one word, with the artificial accents and various languages.

    Seriously, did the director sit in the audience’s seats ever and see if we could hear. It was maddening to not be able to follow.

    Costumes were odd odd odd… a mix of medieval tunics with biker zippers and metalic accents. Monty Python meets The Matrix.

    We left at intermission, which couldn’t come soon enough.

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