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Prenzie continues excellence with 'Henry the Fifth'
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Prenzie continues excellence with 'Henry the Fifth'

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Prenzie continues excellence with 'Henry the Fifth'

There are three basic challenges to writing the review for a show like “King Henry the Fifth,” the Prenzie Players show which opened last weekend.

For those who have not been following the progress of Prenzie’s “The Henriad” — a trio of Shakespeare plays that focus on war and English history — the three shows have been presented in one season, with continuous casting, and the results are absolutely remarkable. This last installment culminates a violent saga, featuring characters (and corpses of characters) from the two previous historical dramas as well as new ones.

But, back to my tri-part dilemma.

First, a show done this well can be difficult to review because doing justice to the many superb moments and performances contained in it is a huge undertaking. Even the best of writers has to pause on occasion with sheer awe, and this work (even in the context of the two excellent productions that preceded it) deserves that kind of pause.

Secondly, I run out of words to use in place of “fantastic,” since so many things about this show are just that. My friend Mike is partial to the word “terrific,” so this time around I’ll throw a few of those in as well. Here goes … The Prenzie Players have a show that is totally fantastic — fantastic acting from a terrific cast, fantastic costuming that does a terrific job of showing character associations through the strategic use of color, and a command of languages and song that enhance the script in terrifically inventive ways

Additionally, such a large cast of characters (nearly 40, by my count) portrayed by 16 performers makes a simplistic plot summary almost impossible to deliver. Suffice it to say that an English king invades France to claim the crown and its wealth, and — though they are far from home and vastly outnumbered — inspires his troops to stand with him for one last decisive battle.

That eloquent St. Crispin’s Day speech, one of Shakespeare’s most famous (and re-worked or alluded to in many contemporary works, including films such as “Band of Brothers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Braveheart,” to name just a few), is only the most singular of several great passages in this script. It’s a weighty work, with text so varied that some lines are used to inspire military fervor while others are read at anti-war rallies, and this disparate bulk is pared to a moving 2 1/2 hours for the Prenzie show.

Jeff De Leon is stunning as Henry V, enlivening the role and his long speeches with eloquence, humanity and inspiration. His pacing is so natural and evocative that he is more than halfway through his big soliloquy before you realize he is even delivering one. It is a big emotional role, and De Leon is truly fantastic. From his resolute abandonment of the shiftless criminality that characterized his younger days and his shouldering of major responsibility to his political wordplay and hapless wooing, De Leon’s Henry V shows us clearly the many facets of this complex character. It is an amazing performance at the heart of this all-around excellent show, and De Leon’s performance only fails to be a standout one because the rest

 There are three basic challenges to writing the review for a show like “King Henry the Fifth,” the Prenzie Player show which opened last weekend.

For those who have not been following the progress of Prenzie’s “The Henriad” — a trio of Shakespeare plays that focus on war and English history — the three shows have been presented in one season, with continuous casting, and the results are absolutely remarkable. This last installment culminates a violent saga, featuring characters (and corpses of characters) from the two previous historical dramas as well as new ones.

But, back to my tri-part dilemma.

First, a show done this well can be difficult to review because doing justice to the many superb moments and performances contained in it is a huge undertaking. Even the best of writers has to pause on occasion with sheer awe, and this work (even in the context of the two excellent productions that preceded it) deserves that kind of pause.

Secondly, I run out of words to use in place of “fantastic,” since so many things about this show are just that. My friend Mike is partial to the word “terrific,” so this time around I’ll throw a few of those in as well. Here goes … The Prenzie Players have a show that is totally fantastic — fantastic acting from a terrific cast, fantastic costuming that does a terrific job of showing character associations through the strategic use of color, and a command of languages and song that enhance the script in terrifically inventive ways

Additionally, such a large cast of characters (nearly 40, by my count) portrayed by 16 performers makes a simplistic plot summary almost impossible to deliver. Suffice it to say that an English king invades France to claim the crown and its wealth, and — though they are far from home and vastly outnumbered — inspires his troops to stand with him for one last decisive battle.

That eloquent St. Crispin’s Day speech, one of Shakespeare’s most famous (and re-worked or alluded to in many contemporary works, including films such as “Band of Brothers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Braveheart,” to name just a few), is only the most singular of several great passages in this script. It’s a weighty work, with text so varied that some lines are used to inspire military fervor while others are read at anti-war rallies, and this disparate bulk is pared to a moving 2 1/2 hours for the Prenzie show.

Jeff De Leon is stunning as Henry V, enlivening the role and his long speeches with eloquence, humanity and inspiration. His pacing is so natural and evocative that he is more than halfway through his big soliloquy before you realize he is even delivering one. It is a big emotional role, and De Leon is truly fantastic. From his resolute abandonment of the shiftless criminality that characterized his younger days and his shouldering of major responsibility to his political wordplay and hapless wooing, De Leon’s Henry V shows us clearly the many facets of this complex character. It is an amazing performance at the heart of this all-around excellent show, and De Leon’s performance only fails to be a standout one because the rest

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of the cast are also incredible actors who do great work here.

Cait Bodenbender’s fine Chorus provides narration — her other very good performances include a duke, a knight and a captain — but it is her clergyman role, during a body-strewn battlefield scene where she sings, that moved me to tears with its simple and heartfelt beauty.

The Latin “Dona Nobis Pacem” is both fully grounded and otherworldly, and as other cast members add their voices, the music only grows more moving and lovely. Stephanie Burrough does terrific work in several roles, too — a prickly herald from the French court, the lively Nell Quickly, and the young Catherine of France. Jennifer Kingry is also first-rate as the Archbishop of Cantebury and the ailing Charles VI, among others.

As Nim (an unlikely corporal) and the Dauphin, Chris Moore is great, turning in the best work I have ever seen from him. Linnea Ridolfi and Jessica Armentrout each have three roles they do well — among them a pair of young earls whose love story began in an earlier play and endures to the end in this one — and I particularly enjoyed Armentrout’s tough, regal Queen Isabel. Bryan Woods and Maggie Woolley are thoroughly enjoyable as a pair of wastrels whose interests lie more with carousing than with war, and Woolley (as an English soldier) also perfectly delivers the play’s lament about war’s futility and waste of human life. Beth Woolley also turns in a brief but noble and wonderfully moody scene as the governor of Harfleur.

More fine performers also appear, often playing soldiers and nobles and/or providing laughs, and the result of having real talent in even the smallest of roles gives the show a seamlessness that is almost impossible to find elsewhere.

Fine costumes, especially the white and pale blues worn by the French characters, add polish — and the decision to stage the show in the round, honoring the shape of the Globe Theater that saw the first production of “Henry V,” is a nice touch for sentimental reasons.

Even better, the staging works in this configuration.

I cannot say enough good things about this production. I can, however, say don’t miss this terrific show.

Contact the features desk at (563) 383-2400 or newsroom@qctimes.com. Comment on this story at www.qctimes.com.


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What: “Henry V” by Prenzie Players

When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday, May 26

Where: Masonic Temple, 420 18th St., Rock Island

How much: $8 suggested donation

Information: (309) 738-2042

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