Chicago Shakespeare Theater. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Christopher Luscombe. With Harry Judge. Running time: 2hrs 20mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Chicago Shakespeare heads once more unto the breach with the play that launched the company in 1986 (with the roof of the Red Lion Inn to CST’s origin story as the church basement is to Steppenwolf’s). In this campaign, British director Christopher Luscombe and Canadian actor Harry Judge lead the charge. Luscombe musters up some appealing visuals, particularly when the young monarch is rallying his troops; designer Kevin Depinet offers a monolithic door, toppled to become the cresting path toward the battlefield at Agincourt, and the field is satisfyingly riddled with silhouetted spears.
Yet Luscombe’s staging is otherwise so safe and traditional as to point up the play’s weaknesses—all the scenes of negotiation by messenger come across as endlessly talky and static, comic interludes with buffoonish soldiers Nym, Bardolph and Pistol are tedious timewasters and Henry’s V-minutes-or-less wooing of France's Princess Katherine (Laura Rook) looks like an astonishing leap of contrivance.
Judge, a regular player at the Shaw Festival, is not an ideal fit as Henry. The king is meant to be a young carouser finally coming into responsible leadership, true, but Judge, with his reedy voice, fresh-scrubbed face and modern affect, is fighting the same uphill battle as Colin Jost as "Weekend Update" anchor on Saturday Night Live, trying to project authority while giving the impression of a wholesome kid playing dress-up in his dad’s suit. Perhaps if Luscombe’s production had a stronger point of view, Judge would seem stronger in turn. But for all its rousing speeches, this Henry V doesn’t have much to say.