Delaware Shakespeare's 15th summer outdoor Shakespeare production, Henry V, reveals a growing company making great strides. Artistic director David Stradley's youthful organization has the personnel and resources to overcome outdoor theater's many challenges and the creative energies to present a smart and stylish interpretation.
The physical world
Joshua Schulman's octagonal platform, which he also lights inventively, makes the perfect bare stage for Henry V. The show features a narrator (Annette Kaplafka, joined by half the company) verbalizing atmospheric details for us in some of Shakespeare's most effective commentary about the art of theater. The audience sits in the round, putting DelShakes's large crowds close to the action on the lawn outside Rockwood Mansion. Sound designer Michael Hahn, and investment in a good sound system, make every word loud and clear wherever one sits.
Bridget Brennan's clever costumes put actors in dark trousers and rough-textured light shirts, then add pieces such as vests, coats, and cloaks in a controlled color palette and a range of fabrics to distinguish characters; most of the actors play several roles. Their clothing resists defining historical period, instead shaping a look that's distinctive to this production. Hahn's musical compositions, including live percussion accompaniment by Kanako Omae Neale, enhances and drives the action.
The imaginary world
Since Henry V's war with France barely merits a footnote in American history classes, we need the cast to clarify the conflict. Particularly effective are Carlo Campbell as Henry's general Exeter, David Pica as headstrong soldier Pistol, and Adam Altman, especially as fiery Welshman Fluellen. Leonard Kelly, Adam Pierce Montgomery, and Kristin Devine excel both as English commoners swept up by war and as haughty French leaders. Guillermo Alonso, Nathan Bunyon, Macy Jae Davis, Nico Galloway, Marcellus McQueen, and Christina Riegel skillfully play a variety of roles on both sides. Savannah Jackson plays two men, then becomes France's Princess Katharine, whose scenes are mainly in French.
While Bedford deserves credit for the cast's overall enthusiasm, clarity, and style, the production's defining casting choice is Emilie Krause in the title role. Summer outdoor Shakespeare is meant for general enjoyment, making unusual casting risky, but DelShakes bets the play on Krause and wins big. Her Henry wears the cast's basic uniform and sometimes a plum-colored cardigan that gently suggests royalty, as well as a simple gold crown that also functions as a headband.
Krause's Henry is not a manly woman or a woman pretending to be a man, nor is the dialogue adjusted to fit a woman. Henry is king, not queen, and pronouns remain masculine. Her performance is genuine, clear, and focused, arcing from Henry's early uncertainty and defensiveness through his growth as a leader and his humorously awkward efforts to woo Katharine. Krause brings vulnerability to the role, with an ability to share emotion without shame.
The casting's success lies in how unremarkable it is. I and those around me accepted it without doubt or dissension. As America lurches toward gender equality, with many fits and starts, Delaware Shakespeare's thoroughly engaging Henry V reveals some welcome progress.