Kentucky Shakespeare’s Dynamic ‘Henry V’ Resonates

Kentucky Shakespeare braved the rain last night to bring their second mainstage production to Central Park. Directed by Amy Attaway, the company’s strong, energetic “Henry V” is a dynamic, fast-paced study in leadership that resonates beyond its 15th-century setting.

“Henry V” runs through July 6 with performances Tuesday-Sunday at 8 p.m. at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Old Louisville’s Central Park. All performances are free and feature pre-show entertainment starting at 7:30 p.m.

This history play centers around Henry V’s claim to the French throne as the question of royal succession through the matrilineal line is pondered by royals and advisors. English king Henry (Matt Lytle) states his intentions to take France, a bid  rejected by the supercilious heir-apparent Dauphin (Tony Milder) in a most rude fashion. Well, wars have been started over less. The English find themselves outnumbered five-to-one on the field of Agincourt, but they prevail, thanks in part to Henry’s outstanding leadership on and off the battlefield.

Lytle brings just enough swagger to his portrayal of young King Harry to recall the monarch’s wild-child earlier days, but his version of the king acts purely as a natural leader. He’s aware of his mortality and of how little really separates him, the king, from his subjects, and is not afraid to be among them and of them so he can lead them.

This is what Shakespeare teaches us about leaders, and what Attaway and her company bring forth so strongly: you can take all the management seminars and webinars you like, but at the end of the day, if you love your people more than anyone else and you are willing to go to battle for them, not for yourself, you will have an army behind you that out-performs and out-lives their modest numbers. So maybe if it’s a slow day in the board rooms and corner offices of Louisville’s Corporatelandia, they could take a field trip down to Central Park and see how the Lancasters got things done, at least on the page and stage.

Stand-out moments in the play include fight coordinator J. Barrett Cooper’s awesome combat scenes, played opening night at an announced 50-percent strength thanks to a damp stage after a mid-performance rain shower — but if the actors were in fact performing at half-speed, I can’t wait to see the full force of a dry performance. As Harry’s uncle the Duke of Exeter, Dathan Hooper brings the loss and grief of the battlefield home during a lovely tribute to their fallen brothers. And Lytle’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, one of Shakespeare’s most stirring monologues, could stir even the most jaded heart.

Which is not to say that “Henry V” doesn’t have its moments of levity, too.

Gregory Maupin once again brings his own brilliant edge to the Welshman Captain Fluellen, who brings ne’er-do-well Pistol (Kyle Ware, equally matched) to his knees over an insulting leek. Megan Massie does double duty as the Chorus (who narrates the scenes) and French princess Catherine, who tries to learn English in anticipation of being married off to Harry with her handmaid Alice (Abigail Bailey Maupin) to great mirth. Massie and Lytle enjoy a crackling chemistry in their courtship scene, infusing a sexy and tender energy into what could otherwise be a very battle- and politics-intensive play. And where would we be without the French joke, a tradition that dates back at least to Shakespearean times? As the dauphin, Milder serves as the butt of centuries of animosity between the two cultures, culminating in a scene that strongly suggests he has an unabashed and unnatural love for his horse.

The company will reprise the show July 15-27 when it runs in rotating repertory with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet.” All three shows feature the same actors.

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