once again became home to English kings as the Oak Park Festival Theatre mounted its second Shakespearean production of the season.
On Saturday, Henry V took to the company’s outdoor stage for opening night as about 140 theatergoers brought lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets filled with fruit and cheese to make themselves at home under a clear evening sky.
The play is one of William Shakespeare’s historical plays and is the final in a tetralogy of plays that includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. The last two plays were adapted earlier this season into .
Henry V tells the story of transformation of the undisciplined Prince Hal into King Henry V, the mature head of England who leads his men to conquer France. The play focuses on the events during the Hundred Years’ War before and after the Battle of Agincourt.
Elizabethan-era plays were conducted on sparse stages with no scenery. The OPFT follows this example, showcasing the plays as the Bard of Avon intended them to be viewed, according to a press released by the festival theatre.
While this can prove somewhat challenging for an audience member to overcome — especially those used to visual overstimulation nowadays — a single actor (the Chorus) comes out at various points in the play to offer explanation and invite viewers to use their imaginations.
Belinda Bremner, co-president of the board of OPFT, plays the part of the Chorus in Henry V. A veteran local actor and theater board member, Bremner said being onstage for this play instead of directing has been a “wonderful challenge.”
“This is also an extraordinary company of incredibly talented and hardworking artists,” she said. “It's a real company: the actors, director, designers, crew. There is great heart in this production, great courage and charm, great humanity and human frailty, and so very much delicious humor. Not to mention some seriously exciting battles.”
The company even had a real life battle to hash out, after a tree snapped during last Monday’s storms, crashing into the theater’s barn and knocking out power. Thanks to the, Bremner said, the dead tree was moved just in time for the opening of the play.
Kevin Theis, the play's director, said he enjoys working with Shakespeare’s material.
“It is one of the great gifts of working on a Shakespeare play that the more you dig, the more you find,” said Theis, co-president of the OPFT board. “[The cast] are, all of them, extremely smart, creative and talented performers and we have all enjoyed digging into the text and seeing what nuggets of brilliance we can uncover.”
He calls Henry V an underdog story, as the new king goes to France and finds he’s outnumbered.
“Dennis Grimes, who plays Henry, and I discussed the play and the character of Henry at length over many weeks leading up to rehearsal,” he said, “and he is turning in a truly remarkable performance.”
One especially different part of the play was the director’s use of the theater’s interns in the play. They appear to be stagehands at first, in bright green T-shirts, headsets on their ears. However, they were used throughout the play, and while this was definitely interesting, it was also slightly distracting and seemed to pull the viewer out of the time frame of the play.
It’s harder to imagine this play is taking place in the 1400’s when there are modern outfits in the mix.
Bremner explains that Theis has interpreted the production at some points.
“His use of the interns as integral parts of the production is something I've not seen before,” she said. “He's done some splendid and inspired cutting, rearranging and juxtapositioning of scenes.”
Theis said he’s particularly happy to direct his daughter Miranda, who plays the young Boy in the show.
“She is a remarkable young actress and I have had particular fun directing her in this show,” Theis said. “If anyone believed that nepotism got her the job, they were swiftly disabused of that notion once they saw her perform.”
The play will run through August 20, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. on Sundays. For Family Days, the play will run at 6 p.m. on July 24 and August 7. There will also be a Wednesday show at 8 p.m. on August 17.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. On July 22 and August 17, seniors and students with ID can purchase tickets for $10. Tickets on Family Days, which include other activities beginning at 4:30 p.m., are $15 for adults and $10 for children. There are various ways to purchase tickets.