ORLANDO — There’s constant movement and action on stage in Henry VI Part I: Joan Of Arc, the new production by Orlando Shakes. The battle between Britain and France has a definite Take-No-Prisoners feel to it, and Joan proves to be a fiercely determined fighter, particularly when she’s engaging in a fast-paced sword fight with a British solider before delivering a savage punch to his jaw that sends the man plummeting to the ground.
Opening with the funeral of Henry V and ending with Joan’s grisly execution by burning, this is a thrilling play that the Shakes’ fine collection of actors brings vibrantly to life.
Even more impressive, though, is the back story about how this production was put together — literally, in a week! If you wanted an example of the kind of dedication the actors at Orlando Shakes bring to their craft, this production is a fitting tribute to their hard work.
What is Henry VI Part 1: Joan Of Arc?
Henry VI Part 1: Joan Of Arc opened on Friday in the Shakes’ Margeson Theater and continues through Jan. 21. This is one of Shakespeare’s three plays that cover the reign of King Henry VI, and is not often one of the most heavily revived of the Bard’s works. This historical drama focuses on the loss of England’s French territories, and the political calculations that would lead to the the bloody Wars of the Roses.
While the playwright would naturally seem inclined to present Britain in the more favorable light over France, in this play he does provide audiences with a fascinating and exciting character in Joan of Arc, who at 19 years old proved to be a ferocious fighter, as determined to win victory on the battlefield as any of the French soldiers she served alongside.
To this exceptional play, the Shakes provides a large cast of 19 terrific actors — and not much else. But that’s not a criticism.
It’s a fascinating production to watch once you’ve learned beforehand that the show didn’t even have a director. Instead, the cast got together, and with just a week of rehearsal, agreed to the staging of this play. Think about that. Knowing it, you’re going to be marvelling at how well staged it is, especially the action-packed battle scenes.
The cast also decided to perform that play in the same way that Shakespearean actors did in the Bard’s era. There are no sound or lighting effects. The lights in the theater remain on throughout the show, and there are no sets, save for the one recently used in the Shakes’ production of A Christmas Carol, which has been trimmed down a bit. The cast selected their own costumes.
Does it all work?
How is Orlando Shakes’ Production of Henry VI?
An interesting side note to this production: it included an aide who sat on the sidelines holding a copy of the script, and whenever a cast member needed a quick reminder of their next line, he would read it. It happened infrequently in the production I saw, and did nothing whatsoever to impede your enjoyment of the show. After the first few times it did happen, I was stunned at how well the cast had memorized their lines, often including long monologues, in just a week.
This production of Henry VI may indeed be “stipped down” compared to some of the Shakes’ past elaborate productions with their gorgeous sets, costumes and lighting effects. But none of that matters because the cast, given the opportunity to put together a Shakespeare production on their own, manages to create a riveting historical and political drama that doesn’t feel the least bit “thrown together.”
While there isn’t a single performance that couldn’t be characterized as first rate, I was particularly impressed with Lorena Cohea as Joan. It might seem easiest to run with a flashy role like Joan, but Cohea truly provides an invigorating sense of the fiery passion and steadfast determination Joan had to win victory for her country, and you’re wowed by her energetic performance.
There are equally engaging and compelling performances by Paul Bernardo as the Duke of Gloucester, K.P. Powell as the Earl of Suffolk, Giuseppe Pipicella as Charles the Dauphin, and Timothy Williams as the man who brings about Joan’s downfall, in what is easily the most gripping scene in the play.
And there are lots of them. See it, and soon.
Where Can I See Henry VI Part 1: Joan Of Arc?
Henry VI Part 1: Joan Of Arc is now being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. The show runs through Sunday, Jan. 21. T
o purchase tickets or to get more information, call the Box Office at (407) 447-1700.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.