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Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009

Bravura Performances Rescue Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ at APT

Theater Review

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War isn't always what it seems, at least to William Shakespeare. Even in legend, heroism's conquests are offset by the conflict's horrors, making even the greatest victory at best bittersweet.

Such is the suffering of poor Prince Hal (Matt Schwader), who has ascended the throne to become the title character in Henry V, American Players Theatre's latest production. In pursuit of the French throne and prompted by a jibe from Lewis, the Dauphin (Paul Hurley), Henry hurtles his armies with familiar gusto ("Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead"). However, Henry threads his vainglorious machismo with questions of his own intentions, which ultimately leads to greater humanity in his actions.

An abbreviated Spring Green troupe playing multiple roles brings its own gusto to the three-hour production, which occasionally bogs down under the weight of the author's overlong narrative. But superior performances rescue the drama, including those of Schwader in a bravura characterization; JamesRidge, whose role as a one-man chorus strengthens the narrative thread connecting the historic jumble; and, especially, David Daniel, whose mannerisms as the Welsh army officer Fluellen bring much-needed humor to war's bitter proceedings.