Just when you think you know which way Insurgo’s going to go, they zag to your zig. Case in point: director John Beane’s traditional staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V, now playing at the Onyx Theatre. Henry V is a fairly rapturous portrait of the eponymous young king and his miraculous victory over the French at Agincourt. Pairing the mercurial king’s intents with his actions makes for a play that has to search to find sure footing among the stirring battle speeches, courtly intrigue and comedic digressions—unfortunately, this production never does, for a host of reasons.
Beane presents this as a traditional pumpkin-sleeved production. Smaller troupes do inventive stagings of Shakespeare because they don’t have the money or the costume shop to effectively clothe the hordes in period outfits. Insurgo is no different. While there are a few decent costume and prop pieces in this production, spray-painted tabards don’t look like inventive staging; they look amateurish. Casting is also a problem, due to the numbers necessary to fill out two different armies. Double-casting happens everywhere, but expecting the same female actress to play a youthful squire in one scene and then don a plastic helm with a beard so patently false that ZZ Top might sue for copyright infringement is stretching even the most generous bounds of credulity.
More subtle choices doom this show as well. Henry V is a newly minted king, a wayward prince now struggling with the intrigues of statehood, trying to shoehorn his wild private identity into a public role. Ernie Curcio plays Henry like Bruce Willis might—full of poise and cunning. A bold choice, but it turns an inspiring figure into a manipulative dick. To play Henry as someone in supreme command of his choices separates him from his troops before an impossible battle. He’s not picking up their spirits with his bonhomie because he’s one of them; he’s leading them to slaughter for his own political gains. Henry makes oversized choices, but they’re the choices of someone who barges forward because he can see no other way. He’s leading his troops to slaughter, sure, but he’s also leading himself to slaughter.
Lastly, the lack of technical preparation is appalling. This is the latest in a string of Insurgo productions where actors can’t find their light because the cues happen at odd moments or not at all. The design is poor and the execution faulty. No lighting designer was credited, and the night I saw the show, Beane was running the board. The actors deserve better.