Henry V turns tables on Shakespeare

By
March 11, 2004

Mills College Weekly

Mills is fast approaching the end of an era. As the class of
2004 tosses their Oxford caps in jubilation in May, a mark of
sadness will be noted within those who are among the last of the
theater majors.

One such student, Olivia Mora, chose to leave an indelible mark
in the Theater Arts program by directing the Lisser Studio’s most
recent tenant, Henry V.

Assisted by fellow senior, English major and lead actor Sarah
Lambie. Mora also created the costumes and choreographed the staged
combat scenes in the play.

This entirely female production of Shakespeare’s epic history
was played out on the smallest campus stage. The Bard’s plays were
first performed with entirely male casts, so Mora decided to “turn
the tables and use all women.”

“I saw an all-female production of Henry V ten years ago,” Mora
states, “and although I don’t remember specifics about it, I do
know I was inspired and I ran back to my room and checked the text.
They hadn’t changed a thing.”

Some changes were made to this production, however, including
the addition of a scene from Henry IV.

Choosing to perform the play in a small theater was part of the
plan as well. “Many people have the idea that Shakespeare should
incorporate colorful costumes and larger-than-life sets,” Mora
said.

Because of that, several large battle scenes were adapted into a
metaphoric dance to give the audience the illusion of heavy,
drastic battle.

The added accompaniment of a score by Russian composer Dmitri
Shostakovich embellished the illusory scene. According to Lambie,
the success of those scenes was a result of her training in stage
combat and Mora’s background in choreography.

“Choreographing and teaching the battles was the most exciting
part of the process for me,” Mora said. “The rhythms were intricate
and every actor rose to the occasion,” she added.

The costuming was basic; the actors wore black on black and
added purple or red regalia to indicate their allegiance to France
or England respectively.

With such effective use of color, audience members quickly knew
when an actor had changed roles. Even the battle scenes took
advantage of this color-coding when two long pieces of fabric
divided the stage as the kings of France and England readied their
armies for war.

With weakness only in the varied dialectical abilities of the
cast, the show was a major hit. Lambie said they were not
encouraged to book more than three nights in the theater as student
interest would be slim. However, it was the members of the
administration who were noticeably absent from the
performances.

Overall, the performance belonged to Lambie. Owning the stage
with her presence, she conveyed her character with all the emotion
and power required of a young monarch who isn’t quite sure where
his loyalties should lie. Her performance as the conflicted ruler
proved challenging, but demonstrated superior acting skill.

“War is the great leveler,” she said adding that, in war, class
distinctions and genders disappear. To be Henry, she had to get
into his head and think, as he would, “Why am I king? What
separates us?”

Separating personal beliefs from the ideals of her character was
difficult, she said, noting that she had to lose the “war-hating
part” of herself in order to come across effectively as Henry
V.

After graduation, Lambie is heading to the Pacific Conservatory
of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, Calif., where she and Mora
first met. There, she’ll be a part of the summer musical
“Quilters.”

Several Mills students joined Lambie on stage including
Christina Adams, Liz Chindlund, Corrine Sklar and Winnifred
Wallace.

“We’re a strong team,” said Sklar, adding that they all
contributed a lot of long hours and received much outside help from
the professional actresses sprinkled among the Mills students who
comprised the cast.

Among the pros, Lucy Owen was delightful as the Chorus, inviting
the audience to witness the play and share in the story while
luring them with her monologues to the edge of their seats in
anticipation.

Nearly stealing the show with much needed comic relief was Mary
Unruh, a professional actor out of San Francisco.

Her performance of Dauphin, the son of the French King, complete
with a royal purple handkerchief always at the ready, left the
audience laughing whether she spoke her lines or simply observed
the action in her character’s skeptical and effeminate stance.

Mora and Lambie will collaborate once again this semester in
Dancing at Lughansa, the Theater Art’s last production. Dancing at
Lughansa is, appropriately, a play about the end of an era.


Henry V turns tables on Shakespeare was published on March 11, 2004 in Arts & Entertainment

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