In the prologue to Shakespeare’s Henry V, Chorus asks, “Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?” The answer to Reduxion Theatre Company’s production, now at the Broadway, is a satisfying, “Yes.”
Reduxion artistic director Tyler Woods staged the play in-the-round in the cozy Broadway Theater. The scenic design by Woods and Jason Coale includes four tall pillars on hinges that are raised or lowered to set different scenes. Woods keeps the action flowing, and the fine cast performs with snap and a certain edginess. Characteristic of Reduxion shows, the production gets a little in-your-face at times.
Andrew Rathgeber gives a strong performance as King Henry. His Henry doesn’t seem like someone you’d want to sit down with for a pint of bitters, but his job of warring and conquering isn’t exactly for wimps. When Henry visits the soldiers the night before the battle at Agincourt, Woods oddly has him leaping from perch to perch like a mountain goat.
Claire Powers plays Chorus, and when she performs the prologue, you’d think she’s going to do the entire play by herself — and she probably could. Woods stages some of Chorus’ speeches with actors, something about which experts can disagree. With Chorus, Shakespeare creates images in the minds of the audience. When the speeches are staged, the director’s ideas replace what’s in the audience’s imaginations. Whether this is a good idea is a topic for discussion over post-theater drinks.
Woods’ casting is cross-gender, specifically with females playing some male characters. One suspects this is because Woods, to his credit, was looking for the best actor for the role. The practice has somewhat of a historical precedent; in Elizabethan theater, all of the roles — both male and female — would have been played by men or boys. The production’s “intimacy coach” is Tonia Sina Ellis, an expert on choreographing sexual intimacy for the stage.
Jeffrey Meek’s period-inspired costumes come in red for the English and blue for the French, including some nifty helmets or, to quote Chorus, casques. The men’s costumes have triangle-shaped codpieces, which are new to me.
Woods makes some judicious cuts to the script and adds some of his own stuff. He stages Henry’s order to kill the camp boys, whom he suspects are sabotaging the English campaign, something Shakespeare only describes.
In this staging, Reduxion does “cram within this wooden O” a fluidly presented, well-acted account of the play. And it’s as close to real swordplay as you’ll ever want to get.