By Matt Pepper
Directed by Kevin Christopher Fox
At Strawdog Theatre Company
Hilarious anti-war, anti-imperialist saga is an ensemble triumph!
”They fight because they’re afraid of themselves,” Henry says, explaining his disdain for the ordinary soldier. ”They’re afraid of each other and they’re afraid of the unknown. And the only way to abate that fear is to attack it, to find the least familiar thing and put an end to it before it does them, whether it’s the family in the next town with the curious religion or a Frenchman minding his own business a thousand miles away. There’s only ever been one war; it began when Cain slew Abel, and its proper name is History. The best a king can do is find a suitable enemy.” –King Henry from St. Crispin’s Day
We have come to expect nice ensemble work from the crew at Strawdog Theatre Company and their latest work, St. Crispin’s Day, is another excellent work. Scenic designers Anders Jacobson and Judy Radivsky and lighting designer Sean Mallary with help from Kevin O’Donnell’s sound have turned Strawdog Theatre into an eerie French countryside circa 1415 on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt between England’s King Henry V and the French.
We meet a bunch of misfit English soldiers including a couple made famous by Shakespeare in his Henry V–Bardolph (Tom Hickey), Pistol (Mike Smith) and Nym (Carmine Grisolia). Led my the macho Captain Fluellen (Brian McCartney) with the Irishman will (Kyle Hamman) and the innocent Tom (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia) together with a corrupt monk, Father Morpath (James Joseph), this incompetent troupe plays out their fear, angst, greed and lust the night before a major battle that they believe will kill them all.
This crew is part Shakespearean common folk and part Monte Pythonesque performed with raw humor and wild physicality including a mud fight!. Pepper’s script is a hilarious, preposterous in-your-face anti-war fable filled with colorful characters too stupid to understand their plight as pawns in an imperialistic world. Like most foot soldiers, they only want to live, have sex and share the wealth. But they are led by shady Bardolph and his wacky sidekick Nym, the loud-mouthed emotionally explosive nitwit. Add the simpleminded Pistol who adores Bardolph, the naive Tom and the plotting Irishman, Will and we have a loony band whose misadventures produce mayhem. They plot to kidnap King Henry, they steal gold from a church, and they bring two French whore to camp.
The action (and comedy) is manic and quite physical as well as vocal. The laughs abound. I can’t remember a finer comic ensemble so filled with brave physicality, smart timing and sharp verbosity. Tom Hickey and Carmine Grisolia anchor the ensemble. Kyle Hamman, Brian McCartney and John Henry Roberts each contribute excellent moments.
Playwright Matt Pepper uses crude humor to vividly express the folly of war. Wit, whimsy and wildness add depth to this farcical show. This is one of those funny shows that make you appreciate the efforts and craft of the actors. The strong production values and the skilled performances make St. Crispin’s Day a success. The wacky humor is contagious.
At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, Call 773-528-9698, www.strawdog.org, tickets $20, $15 senior/student, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8pm, Sundays at 7 pm, Special Monday, Oct 12 at 7 pm with intermission, through October 31, 2009 performance, running time is 2 hours.