Henry V, Cafe Voltaire.
Like The Merchant of Venice, Henry V is one of the most controversial plays in Shakespeare’s canon: it can be seen as a hateful, irresponsible play with a self-serving, war-mongering king painted as an ideal hero. Of course Shakespeare’s plays are rarely what they seem on the surface; Henry V also offers a highly subversive reading of the militaristic nationalism of Western culture. But just as The Merchant of Venice requires artists to confront the anti-Semitic rhetoric in the text, Henry V demands a point of view from those who tackle it if it’s to have any relevance for a contemporary audience.
Joe Falocco’s one-man, 28-minute adaptation of Henry V is the pinnacle of irrelevance. All of Henry’s big moments are here–his speech before the gates of Harfleur, his oration before the battle of Agincourt, his repeated defiance of the French dauphin–but everything that makes the play challenging and thought provoking is gone. Simply witnessing Henry’s victory over the French, a foregone conclusion, is about as gripping as watching a rerun of last year’s Super Bowl.
Falocco’s performance is pain-stakingly prepared, his every gesture and vocal inflection carefully rehearsed. But while such precision allows his adaptation to move at a steady clip, it robs the evening of all spontaneity. Falocco too often seems to run on autopilot, curiously staring just above the heads of his audience as he speaks. If Disneyland ever opens an animatronic Hall of Shakespeare, it will look and sound much like this.