Technically it was “drizzle,” not “rain,” gently falling upon the UMD theater department’s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” on Thursday. But whatever the official designation, the precipitation was insufficient to stop Duluth’s first theatrical show since the world went dark in March.
The approximately 60 patrons attending the performance had brought their own chairs and blankets. I had a wide-brimmed hat to keep my glasses dry on the outside, but the inside kept fogging up because I was wearing a mask (which certainly kept my face warm).
“Hank Cinq” (pardon my French) is an ideal production to stage in the time of COVID-19. The work is in the public domain, so no royalties need be paid. More importantly, in the play’s prologue, Chorus explains there is no way the cast can actually stage the epic battle of Agincourt, so we should use our imaginations to pretend there are armies and horses.
So performing outside in Ordean Court with all the off-stage cast members in view and UMD students periodically wandering by seemed utterly appropriate.
Director Tom Isbell streamlined the play into a 90-minute production, performed by 14 cast members without intermission. Except for Jake Nelson’s King Henry, everybody is playing multiple parts as they race on and off stage.
Most of the scenes are played at a fast tempo and high volume, which took a bit of getting used to. Henry’s rebuke of the Dauphin’s gift of tennis balls seemed too fast, and his “once more unto the breach” speech could have been bigger.
In contrast, Laura Carlson’s Chorus was more measured and always provided a sense of the drama she was describing.
The scene in French where Alice (Mikayla Anderson) gives Katharine (Camryn Buelow) an anatomical English lesson delighted the opening late afternoon audience.
Ryan Horrocks does a nice job shooting his mouth off too much as the Dauphin; Christopher Hoffmann plays up Fluellen’s lush Welsh accent; and as Ancient Pistol, Patrick Timmons gets laughs boasting with small scissors.
The Battle of Agincourt was presented as an interpretive dance, which actually could have gone on much longer. Background music was provided by a trio of drummers.
One surprising aspect of the outdoor performance was the effective use of colored lights, as when they cast blue lights on characters setting the mood for the little touch of Harry in the night.
For most of the play, I never gave a thought to how performers were socially distancing. Only when Henry asked for the count of the dead and the herald placed the messages on the stage for the king to pick up, did I suddenly remember the new rules.
The cast wore microphones to deal with the twin burdens of performing outside while wearing masks, so we could hear everybody. I took their wearing masks for granted until the princess showed up with her flowing black tresses, making her mask look like she had a beard.
But then, in the play’s penultimate scene, that same mask became part of an utterly novel way for the future royal couple to seal the deal.
If you go
What: University of Minnesota Duluth’s production of “Henry V” by William Shakespeare
Where: Ordean Court
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 24-27, Sept. 30-Oct. 1-3
Tickets: Free, open to the public. Reservations required at tickets.umn.edu.
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.