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Henry V

Ty Jones does a bang-up job in the title role of the Classical Theatre of Harlem's creative production of Shakespeare's play.

Glenn Gordon and Ty Jones in Henry V
(© Ruth Sovronsky)
Director Jenny Bennett serves up a decidedly creative, 90-minute take on William Shakespeare's Henry V, now being presented by the Classical Theatre of Harlem at The Malcolm X & Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (with later showings at East River Park), and it's one the Bard would likely have approved.

Among the surprises Bennett springs on the audience is the very first. As the cast wanders in, cheerfully greeting ringsiders, they go into warm-up exercises and then start singing "O, for a muse of fire" in unison. Hearing the play's propulsive opening words performed in this way would likely have caused Shakespeare to break out in a grin.

Using only a scaffolding unit and a few movable pieces of furniture designed by Anka Lupes and the spare accessories costumer Rachel Dozier-Ezell has the players add to their artistically tattered black outfits, Bennett keeps the actors hopping, many of them doubling, tripling, quadrupling and more as the Bard sends his characters across England to France, eventually into the Battle of Agincourt, and then to the conquered French court where Henry woos the French princess and peace settles on the lands, if only temporarily.

As the young and reformed Hal -- a central figure who manifests the leadership qualities that seem lacking in today's world -- Ty Jones certainly has the role's needed traits in good supply. Handsome and athletic, flashing a smile to charm the birds off trees and boasting the ability to rise quickly to anger when silencing those who'd cross the King, Jones does a bang-up job.

His "Once more into the breach" speech is strong, and he's even stronger when he addresses his soldiers on St. Crispin's Day and refers to them and himself as "we few, we happy few." He's also delightful when addressing the princess with his pidgin French.

Much the same can be said of the other 14 actors, who must find themselves barely able to catch their breath as they slip literally or figuratively into a different hat. Of this happy few, pint-sized Carine Montbertrand is the stand-out, as she takes on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the inebriated Nym, and giggly French lady-in-waiting Alice.

Stephanie Berry is a commanding King of France. Paulo Quiros gives evidence he has the best-trained vocal chops in the company. Tremayne "Trey" Rollins, as the battalion mascot, is certainly winning, and he's the center of an amusing running gag Bennett has dreamed up about inept trumpet playing.

There are times when, in their fervor, the cast members don't speak Shakespeare's words trippingly; instead they chew and then swallow them. So while Bennett may want to hold a few rigorous diction drills, she'd also be wise to tell her cast to never lose the enthusiasm they're bringing to the never-aging warhorse.