Richard & Henry

Before they close this weekend I want to put in a word for the Shakespeare Theatre's "Leadership Repertory": Richard II & Henry V in rotating rep.

Two very solid, credible productions --which I intend as sincere not faint praise, as so often performances are marred by unevenness, and these are simply fine all the way around. No weak links among the actors, traditional yet inventive costuming and staging that enhance the stories, neither distracting from them nor boring us with the feeling we've seen this 1000 times.

Michael Hayden plays both roles impressively, which heightens the opportunity for comparison and contrast and asking ourselves questions about problems of leadership. The most obvious contrast is between Richard II, so utterly certain of himself he doesn't see the weakness of his throne and Henry, painfully aware of the precariousness of his claims, nonetheless able to project strength and seize victory.

The biggest contrast in my mind, however, was not so much between Richard and Henry as between Hayden's Henry and Kenneth Branagh's film version. I love the Branagh film, but he salts Henry's heroic attributes and cuts some ambiguous scenes (notably the slaying of French captives), making him seem more like a fellow rising bravely to meet misfortunes cast upon him by the ignoble French, whereas Shakespeare's figure creates the situations he "finds himself" in --notably by manipulating religion-- and his qualities are decidedly mixed.