A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Berkshire / Berkshire Review / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 111: Two at Shakespeare and Company

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Ryan Winkles and Caroline Calkins in Shakespeare and Company's 'Henry V'. Photo by John Dolan
Ryan Winkles and Caroline Calkins in Shakespeare and Company’s ‘Henry V’. Photo by John Dolan

Henry V
by William Shakespeare
Bernstein Theatre
Director – Jenna Ware
Cast: Caroline Calkins, Jonathan Croy, Kelly Galvin, Jennie M. Jadow, Tom Jaeger, David Joseph, Sarah Jeanette Taylor, Ryan Winkles

Ryan Winkles as Henry V in Shakespeare and Company's procuction. Photo by John Dolan.
Ryan Winkles as Henry V in Shakespeare and Company’s procuction. Photo by John Dolan.

For me, Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth is as much about Falstaff as it is about Henry. Why the author’s abrupt bellicose turn to begin with? I think the playwright was afraid of Falstaff. He had already devoured two plays, Henry IV parts 1 and 2. Something had to be done. It had to be a large thing, something that would really put the old fat man down… no chance of recovery. How about a big military campaign? Yes, Falstaff gets his due in the form of a sweet, stuttering elegy, which was given a sincere performance the other night at Shakespeare and Company by Sarah Jeanette Taylor. Beautiful as it is, it is still small potatoes. How can you sum up two plays’ worth of comic genius in a few lines? The little elegy is short because that is exactly what Shakespeare wanted. He wanted the fat man to disappear. He was afraid of him. He surrounds it with jingoistic battle cries and a resurrected Hal who tries, and eventually succeeds as a gallant soldier. It took many to kill the one, that one being Falstaff. If you don’t believe me, think about this. Why the egregious execution of the old man’s pal Bardolph, a harmless drunk, a petty thief, cut off for no good reason. Even this harmless creature could not be left on the ground breathing the air. Only old Pistol survives, a shell of a man, his world destroyed. If the play begins with a battle, it achieves a little balance (although one difficult for actors) by ending with a marriage. It is a soft-grained, political marriage — sweet-talk in two languages. It is also a huge denouement after the great battle scene. The play takes a religious turn near the end. Young Henry makes sure that we know God is on the side of the English. The wastrel has become a saint, Falstaff has firmly been put to ground. This only shows the greatness of the fat man, not only fat with food, but possessed of a surfeit of words like no other.

I saw some things in Shakespeare and Company’s performance this week that convinced me even more that this take is reasonable. Ryan Winkles as King Henry was wonderfully boyish and searching in his manner, often wondering which way to go. I saw this in his fine performance, not only verbally but facially. He was as surprised as any young soldier would be when God limited his casualties to twenty some. He allowed himself to be bewildered, and he did not over-celebrate the victory. He showed kindness to the French princess, who was well played by Caroline Calkins — good French!

Other supporting roles, and in this “Bare Bard” production they were really major roles, aided mightily in telling the story. As always, Kelly Galvin made us listen. When she speaks, you listen — you have no choice.


The How and the Why
by Sarah Treem
Bernstein Theatre
Director – Nicole Ricciardi
Cast: Tod Randolph, Bridget Saracino

I wish I could have liked this play more. One long conversation, it lets us hear long stretches of talk between two scientists, a mother and daughter reunited many years later after separation at birth. Bridget Saracino, the daughter, understandably resented her mother’s absence. The difficulty for me was that the script required her to maintain an almost constant petulance for nearly the whole duration of the play. This is really hard to do, and Bridget made a very good effort. Still though, the resentment made the character seem relentless. Tod Randolph as the mother was left in a completely reactive position. She handled this masterfully, her responses subtle, gentle, and sad. There were also several big lies between the characters, and this made me less and less able to believe what they were saying. The set and the costumes were excellent; they looked just right. My favorite parts of the play were the scientific discussions. These seemed, in their detail and most of all their energy, to release the actors. Science can be wonderful on stage — think of Doktor Faustus, Galileo, etc.; and in this show it gave us the most cogent drama.

Bridget Saracino as Rachel and Tod Randolph as Zelda in Sarah Treem's 'The How and the Why'. Photo by John Dolan.
Bridget Saracino as Rachel and Tod Randolph as Zelda in Sarah Treem’s ‘The How and the Why’. Photo by John Dolan.
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