Henry V: New York Classical Theatre 20 July 2011

Panoramic Theater. In Battery Park, the ferry, and Governors Island. Beautiful summer weather. Shakespeare with a cast of 10s. And 500 audience members.

Free Shakespeare in the Park is a long-standing NYC tradition that I’ve never taken advantage of because I don’t want to stand on those long lines for the Public Theater performances. I did see Romeo and Juliet in a Lower East Side parking lot a few years ago. And I saw Joe Papp’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Broadway when I was a teenager. I never read Shakespeare in school – it was not a requirement. And never saw any of the movie versions. But by my age I’m familiar with the stories for most of his plays.

So this was my opportunity to see a great play in a wonderful setting. When I originally saw the link in the River-to-River Festival email I thought it was an evening sitting in the park. Then I found out it we’d be spending the evening following the cast from Castle Clinton in Battery Park, riding the ferry to Governors Island, and then following them all over the island. rtb thought it sounded fun also and joined me.

First you have to stand on line and get a wristband for the ferry. The show starts at 7pm but the wristband giveaway starts at 5pm. The park is near my office so I went to go stand in line and, of course, got lost because no street in the Financial District is parallel to anything else. I looked at the map before I left and couldn’t figure out how I could get so lost. I re-checked today and I see that Google maps has Castle Clinton in the wrong place. So I’m not as bad at map reading as I thought I was. While on line they told us to bring water and wear good shoes because we’d be walking/running a mile and a half over hilly terrain. I looked down at my flip-flops and decided changed into the other shoes I keep in my office. Got the wristbands, went back to the office and discovered I was actually only three blocks away (!), and went back to Battery Park at 6:30 to wait for rtb.

We gathered at the steps in front of Castle Clinton and the artistic director of New York Classical Theatre, Stephen Burdman, introduced himself and told us what we were in store for. The play opened with Gower (Tracy Griswold) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Nick Salamone) in front of the castle doors. They go through the doors and we follow and we see King Henry V (Justin Blanchard) and Exeter (Clay Storseth). An attendant is sent off to get Montjoy (Ian Antal), the French ambassador. The attendant had to walk through the crowd seated on the ground, then return with Montjoy, who barreled through in an arrogant French way when he both entered and departed.

Now I can’t tell you much about the action except that Henry was insulted by the gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin. It was difficult to hear the dialogue because of the usual outdoor noises and Blanchard, who is pretty in a Rhett Miller sort of way, has slipping dentures that make words sound funny and makes him spit when he speaks. Spit a lot. I did not want to be in the front row for any of his scenes.

After that scene we moved out to the park again to meet Bardolph (Kevin Orton), Nym (Andy Patterson), and Pistol (understudy whose name I didn’t get). Then it’s onto the ferry so we can invade France. The ferry ride was uneventful – the King walked through once – but then right in front of us there was a bit of business with Williams (Will Gallacher), one of the soldiers, and then he ran to a corded off section of the ship, pretended to piss off the side of the ship, and when he finished he had some dialogue with the King – again I was having difficulty hearing but I think Williams didn’t know it was the King and I was sure this would mean something later.

We disembarked – this took a long time. 500 people had to squeeze through a small gangway, go across a bridge, and up a hill where the King and the soldiers were kneeling in prayer. We all sat quietly until everyone was ashore and seated. Nym walked through the crowd and stopped to compare a big held up umbrella to his sword. Then he compared a smaller umbrella. And then he spoke to a small boy in the front row. Nym joined his comrades and kneeled. Then the King and soldiers all stood, crossed themselves, and started walking away. The audience all looked at each other – what? are we supposed to follow? – and Nym turned to us and said, “Come on!” and we jumped up and ran after the soldiers who had started running off and then I could hear yelling and they were fighting with the French, who ran off, and we all cheered.

We walked further on to watch a scene with the King of France (Christopher Cass – a Christopher Plummer lookalike), the Dauphin (Tony von Halle), the Duke of Berri (J.R. Robinson), and the Duke of Orleans (Drew Lewis) in front of some Coast Guard barracks. This time I was standing near a Douglas Fir and now, with their French accents, I had an even harder time understanding. Exeter came in and I believe there was more polite insulting.

Despite not being able to hear the dialogue or follow the action completely I was having a ball. It was a beautiful night and Governors Island is a lovely place to wander around whether there’s British and French royalty or not.

Since I was in the back for that scene and we had to turn around and go back to the place of the first battle, I was in front, and had a front row seat. There was Gower and someone else and – oh no! – the King entered and I was hoping he wouldn’t stand too close to me and hit me with his dialogue.

We followed the actors all around the island and then there was the St. Crispin’s Day speech, which I have seen the Olivier and Branagh versions of. The audience cheered before the King finished and cheered again when he did and then we watched the big battle and stepped over the bodies when we had to move onto the next scene. I noticed two dead soldiers behind a wall as we were walking. It was all very realistic looking for such a small army.

There was a funny scene with Pistol and a not quite dead French soldier (Michael Engberg) and then more scenes on the island. It was getting dark and the interns/volunteers were using flashlights as follow spots. Back on the ferry to England, and again, there was a scene with the King and Williams. Off the ferry and there was Pistol and Fluellen (Charles David Goforth) with the leek joke. When that was over Pistol waved us all over to inside the castle to attend a wedding. There was the King of France, King Henry and Katherine (Elsa Carette), and the French king leaves them alone, they flirt and kiss, and then they are married. The End.

The stand-out actors were Goforth, Patterson, and the understudy playing Pistol. Antal was funny as was Gallacher.

Again, even though I couldn’t hear or understand most of the dialogue I was having a great time and would do this again.

By Carene Lydia Lopez