Innovative and enjoyable all-female Shakespeare
|Babes With Blades Theatre Company presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
What makes a leader? Young Henry V is about to find out as he takes the throne of England after the death of his father. Henry’s subjects aren’t exactly on board, and the outside world is upping the pressure daily. The new king makes a bold move and decides to conquer France – but will the people of England rally? Shakespeare’s Henry V is one of the more beloved history plays, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company seeks to give the script a modern twist with an all-female cast and realistic stage violence. In the past, Babes With Blades’ work has been hit or miss, but this Henry V is far and away the most enjoyable BWB production I’ve had the pleasure to review.
Previously, I’ve only seen Babes With Blades’ non-Shakespeare productions, such as Trash and Witch Slap! What mainly didn’t work for me in those plays, was that Babes With Blades’ signature realistic violence felt forced. Every time, there were frequent breaks in the action for combat sequences that, though very impressive, were inorganic. Not so with Henry V, a play that takes place during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Women wield knives and swords, and even a minor slap is both exciting and a natural unfolding of events. Kim Fukawa’s violence design is both thoughtful and well-executed, fitting perfectly into the story of a young monarch with everything to prove.
Director Hayley Rice stages Henry V as a play-within-a-play at an all-girls school, with the Chorus in the form of an enthusiastic teacher (Chelsea Rolfes) armed with an overhead projector. The effect is a fun twist, and the gimmick is used just enough to work well within the context of the story but never overwhelms. Both Elyse Balogh’s scenic design and Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes contribute to the school play effect while adding a touch of history-lesson accuracy. Dialect coach Carrie Hardin deserves kudos for high-quality British and French accents. The ensemble cast is superb: most play multiple roles while maintaining excellent diction and top-notch physicality. Standouts include Rolfes’ happy, high-strung instructor; violence designer Fukawa, sporting a sexy eye patch; and the consistently steadfast Gaby Labotka. Diana Coates shines in the title role, exuding presence and authority. Her Henry V is at once courageous and powerful, and tentative and vulnerable, ready in body but not necessarily in spirit to lead a country on the verge of revolution.
According to its mission statement, Babes With Blades “uses stage combat to place women and their stories center stage . . . our ensemble creates theatre that explores the wide range of the human experience, and cultivates broader perspectives in the arts community and in society as a whole.” Now more than ever, representation of marginalized voices is essential, as is the role of the arts in challenging old-school perspectives and ideals. Our current political climate seeks to reclaim an America where greatness meant segregation of anyone who’s remotely different (e.g. not a straight, cisgender white male), and the new majority of society seeks to rebel. If you’re looking to flip the script and contribute to a storefront theater, see Babes With Blades’ Henry V.
Henry V continues through April 1st at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25 (students/seniors: $15), and are available by phone (773.904.0391) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BabesWithBlades.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Steven Townshend and Johnny Knight
Diana Coates (Henry V), Catherine Dvorak (Pistol, French King), Delia Ford (Exeter, Quickly, Earpingham), Kim Fukawa (Bardolph, Warwick), Samantha Kaufman (Dauphin, Westmoreland), Gaby Labotka (Gloucester, Hartfleur, John Bates), Morgan Manasa (Ely, Fluellen), Jennifer L. Mickelson (Canterbury, Scroop, Gower), Alexis Randolph (Montjoy, Nym, Michael Williams), Chelsea Rolfes (Chorus, Alice, French Soldier), Alison Vodnoy Wolf (Katherine, Boy, Grey), Emily Green, Rachel Mock (understudies)
behind the scenes
Hayley Rice (director), Kim Fukawa (violence design), Elyse Balogh (scenic design), Lara Caprini (stage manager), Carrie Hardin (dialect coach), Alex Hutson (technical director), Scott Leaton (props design), Matt Reich (sound design), Dustin Spence (production manager), Gaby Labotka (assistant violence design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Andrea Trygstad (lighting design), Steven Townshend, Johnny Knight (photos)