Babes with Blades is one of my favorite theater companies in Chicago. Performing impeccable all-female productions of a myriad of productions and making sure their on-stage fighting is energetic, beautifully choreographed and fun to watch, Babes with Blades delivers another success. This all-female version of Shakespeare's "Henry V" is a perfect example of what this company does so well.
"Henry V" was directed by Hayley Rice and Violence Design was done by Kim Fukawa. Not one of Shakespeare's simpler plays, many missed it in High School Lit classes. Ascending the throne of England after the death of his father, Henry IV, young Harry, as he was known is his young and wild days, inherits a mess.
Infighting within and pressure from without, Henry V works to unite his country and find within himself what it means to be King Henry V and still be Harry. He embarks on a risky and perhaps ill-conceived campaign to conquer France. Trying to make peace through war is a tricky proposition for the most experienced of rulers, let alone a young, former ne'er-do-well.
Shakespeare has given Henry a play chock full of meaty speeches, witty banter and heroic acts. And of course, these were meant to be played by a man. Indeed even in Shakespeare's time only men were allowed on stage, even for the female parts. I was surprised by how fast I forgot the gender of the actors before me; almost as though it didn't matter (which, of course, it doesn't).
Diana Coates plays Henry V and it is surprising to no one that she owns the role. Physical and intellectual, she imbues Henry with enough swagger to make him believable as a young untested monarch half-bluffing his way through and enough humility for us to easily believe he knows what he is asking of his men, and that is everything. All of the other actors play at least two other roles each. Morgan Manasa's turn as the garrulous Welshman Fluellen and Delia Ford as the steady Exeter were both memorable.
Overall, this show was remarkably well-cast. Each actor, Coates, seemed perfectly matched to their roles. Switching from a French King (Catherine Dvorak) to the traitorous Pistol or from a school marm incarnation of the Chorus (Chelsea Rolfes) to French handmaid to a French Soldier would be a neat trick for any actor.
But this cast made it look easy and truly gave everything to each role. That is not to mention the sword-wielding, punch-throwing, thrust and parry that was going in during the frequent battles, skirmishes, and soldiering. To allow that ease of transition between roles, the costuming was fantastic while the set was extremely minimal.
"Henry V" runs through April 1 at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago. For tickets or information, visit babeswithblades.org