The list of Shakespearean leading men in America — currently headed by Kevin Kline and Liev Schreiber — isn’t especially long. So when a worthy new candidate appears, a trumpet welcome is in order. Therefore, let clarion tooting begin for Matthew Amendt, who’s currently at the New Victory Theater making something memorable of the title role of Henry V in the outstanding Acting Company-Guthrie Theater production, now touring the country.
Amendt’s Harry le Roy — as the king calls himself during his clandestine visit to the troops before the battle of Agincourt — isn’t perfect; for example, he overworks the stiff-armed pointing and sometimes loses the muscular musicality of the poetry through overemphasized line readings. In all other aspects, the dark-haired, square-jawed, straight-nosed, sonorous-voiced, athletic Amendt fills an extremely demanding bill. He has size, authority, and the ability to lead men proudly at one moment and address them with humility another.
When Amendt gives Henry’s rally-the-troops speech before the crucial St. Crispin’s Day encounter, it’s the rare ticket-buyer who wouldn’t follow him into the fray. Wooing the French princess with his poor command of the language, he is nonetheless charmingly commanding. When much earlier, he repudiates the emissary who brings a chest of tennis balls from the mocking Dauphin, he responds with captivating regal disdain. He even juggles three of the offending gifts. And he’s handsome in the flowing velvet robe that costume designer Anita Yavich drapes fluidly over the grey-with-brows-inserts, silver-piped outfits he wears with consummate style.
The play’s resourceful director, Davis McCallum, has not only helped elicit Amendt’s masterful performance but has drawn clever performances from the rest of the well-spoken cast of 12. Aside from Amendt, they each double — all of them appearing initially as Shakespeare’s Chorus, the recurring narrator who explains that the audience shouldn’t expect to witness reality in the “wooden O” that was Shakespeare’s Globe. Instead, they should see the actors as guides to fire the imagination. And fire they do, within a section of a wooden O that set designer Neil Patel provides complete with metal fixtures on which sliding doors (one at floor level, one directly above) move back and forth to reveal and conceal some of the action.
Among the strongest, Freddy Arsenault sharply embodies the haughty Dauphin and the shaken Scroop, William Sturdivant shapes up the proud Fluellen, Georgia Cohen switches from the now-married Mistress Quickly to the French queen, Kelley Curran plays the smart-beyond-his-years Boy and then Princess Katherine, Rick Ford makes a fine Cambridge and conciliatory French King, and Chris Thorn’s Pistol is amusingly volatile.