Encore Michigan

Pigeon Creek’s ‘Henry V’ royal fun at Dog Story

Review June 18, 2017 Sue Merrell

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–Methinks the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company doth enjoy The Bard too much. And as is often the case, when the players are having a good time the audience can’t help but get caught up in the fun.

From the boisterous songs that have become a company tradition before each act to the characters sitting down and interacting directly with audience members, the company philosophy seems to be enjoyment. Even when the production is a potentially dreary history like Henry V.

A dozen cast members presented a fairly flawless preview performance of Henry V Thursday night for about 15 audience members in the small Dog Story Theatre. In terms of acting and storytelling, the Pigeon Creek production is often comparable to the Henry V production I saw last summer at Canada’s Stratford Festival. And in some ways the intimate setting of the Dog Story Theatre makes Henry’s rousing speeches more powerful and personal than they could ever be in a large, dark auditorium.

Of course, in production values such as sets, costumes and pyrotechnics, the Stratford production far exceeds the possibilities at a small black box theater. In fact, directors Angela and Francis Boyle wisely chose to keep all the battle scenes off stage where the sword clanging could be heard but not endanger the audience.

If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s histories, you know that Henry V is the grown-up Hal from Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Parts I and II). He has decided to put aside the wayward behavior of his youth, as well as his wayward friends including audience favorite Jack Falstaff. Instead he concentrates on winning control of France.

The play becomes a tribute to the glories of battle with Henry giving the famous “band of brothers” speech and inspiring the war weary to charge back into battle with a cry of “For Harry, England and Saint George!”

Equity actor Paul Riopelle does an outstanding job as the dashing King, full of enthusiasm and fire and yet sharing his bedraggled fear in private glances to the audience. Kat Hermes juggles two opposite roles: the loud, outspoken English soldier Pistol and the French princess Katherine who is struggling to learn English.

Scott Wright, who plays Falstaff briefly in the beginning, mainly serves as a chorus/narrator setting the scenes and explaining the context. The combination of roles in this close setting makes it feel like the ghost of Falstaff is giving the audience the inside track.

Michael Dodge also does double duty as the Duke of Exeter and the heavily accented Welsh Captain Fluellen. Bridget McCarthy stands out in at least three roles from buxom wench to soldier to messenger. Actually all the company did a great job with most actors portraying more than one character and women playing many men’s roles.

Although minimal set pieces were used, sound effects helped create the scenes. These worked fairly well except for a very tinny sounding thunder.

In some ways Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company reminds me of King Henry’s troops attacking France. They are outnumbered and under-equipped, but they have the glorious words of Shakespeare for inspiration. Against all odds, Henry V is victorious, another winning production for “Harry, England and Saint George.”

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