God, guts and glory

Henry V

Damn straight, this cockpit holds the vasty fields of France.

Damn straight, this cockpit holds the vasty fields of France.

Henry V; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; $10-$15. Davis Shakespeare Ensemble in the UC Davis Arboretum Gazebo, 1 Garrod Drive, Davis; (530) 802-0998; www.shakespearedavis.com. Through July 1.

UC Davis Arboretum

Valley Oak Cottage
Davis, CA 95616

(530) 752-4880

Rated 4.0

Talk about a character-building challenge: The plucky 3-year-old Davis Shakespeare Ensemble has mounted Henry V, a panoramic history set in the 1400s, with 40 mostly-male speaking parts. It’s staged in an airy gazebo at the leafy U.C. Davis Arboretum. And they do it with a nimble cast of five, lending literal meaning to Henry’s inspiring talk to his outnumbered troops at Agincourt: “We few, we happy few.”

Needless to say, some scenes are streamlined; performers inhabit multiple roles (watch the color-coded costumes); sword-wielding women sometimes portray noble men.

Yet the show remains largely true to the spirit of the source. That’s an achievement, because Henry V manifests a kaleidoscope of emotions—from battlefield bravery to cowardice, dynastic royal strategizing to secret treachery, tragedy, victory, humor, pathos; there’s even a marriage proposal on bended knee.

Above all, the play tracks Henry’s swift, mythic transformation from the wastrel Prince Hal into “dread sovereign,” a just-but unsentimental king who sends old drinking buddies to the gallows when they deserve it and conquers France despite long odds. Casey Worthington is vivid in the title role, and the gazebo affords an opportunity to feel Henry’s intensity up close. Other memorable vignettes include blushing Cody Granger as Princess Catherine, and cocky Mitchell Van Landingham as France’s foppish Dauphin. Director Rob Salas handles his cast well and makes savvy use of space. This is not a “big” Henry V, with armored soldiers clanging swords in vast scenes, but a gutsy little production that nonetheless delivers the goods, in a compact package.