Jun. 22—IOWA CITY — The crown rests well on the head of Katy Hahn in Riverside Theatre's production of "Henry V."

In Shakespeare's day, men played the female roles, so why not have a woman play a man's role today? Especially when Hahn has proved her mettle in so many plays, in so many ways, including an earlier version of the heir to the throne in Riverside's 2019 production of "Henry IV, Part 1."

This fourth summer of the Iowa City professional troupe's free Shakespeare in the Park finds England's Henry V preparing to wage war on France, to claim his rightful spot on that throne, too. A victory would unite England and France. But can Henry's small army overpower French King Charles VI's much larger fighting force at the 1415 Battle of Agincourt?

You could use Google to find the answer, but how much better it would be to pack a picnic (or buy concession stand fare) and head to Lower City Park. It's an idyllic place to watch the action play out under the setting sun in a setting based on Shakespeare's open-air Globe Theatre in London.

This latest Riverside Theatre production near the Iowa River continues Thursday through Sunday evenings through July 3. Show times move from 7:30 to 6:30 p.m. July 2 and 3, so audiences can catch area fireworks displays.

One of Shakespeare's "war plays," the first half of "Henry V" consists of a lot of plotting, planning, aligning and scheming, leading to some offstage beheadings. The second half has more action, with K. Michael Moore's exciting, carefully choreographed hand-to-hand combat, followed by Henry's delightfully awkward attempt to win the hand of Princess Katherine of France.

But even in the "talky" first half, the actors physically and emotionally convey the essence of the Bard's language that's almost foreign to modern ears. The always marvelous Tim Budd is a Chorus of one, acting as a narrator to set the scenes and fill in the blanks of the complicated machinations.

Most cast members portray more than one character, slipping easily and well between roles and costumes. No one is more adroit at this than Elijah Jones, leaping between the goofy Bardolph and the no-nonsense Capt. Gower.

Jones also is a hoot during the Green Show, a sort of multimedia primer presented in the nearby shelterhouse 30 minutes before curtain. Plan accordingly to arrive in time to catch this 15-minute frolic between past and present tensions.

Elliott Bales, a Cedar Rapids native with many stage and screen credits, thunders in very different ways between Welsh Capt. Fluellen and French King Charles VI. He's a compelling presence, whether peeking out from under a floppy hat or a gleaming crown.

Matthew James plays chameleon through four roles, beginning with a rather dotty Bishop of Canterbury, on through Scottish Capt. Jamy, loyal English soldier Sir Thomas Erpingham and the French Duke of Burgundy. Each is distinct, which is so important to furthering the audience's grasp on the plot twists and turns.

Christina Sullivan is barely recognizable as she moves from French herald Montjoy, delivering messages between the kings, and Princess Katherine, who is utterly charming as she tries to master a few English words and phrases before meeting with King Henry.

And then we have Hahn, who brings a commanding demeanor to King Henry V, as well as compassion, vulnerability, piety and ardor. She is brilliant in this role, rendering irrelevant any question of gender. And her son, Jack Hahn, 12, is delightful as Boy, representing the youth impacted by war. Taking solo turns in the spotlight is no easy feat, but he handles them well.

Director Adam Knight's adroit hand moves the actors and action through the chess match with skill and vision, and he adds a menacing layer of percussion reverberating from behind the audience.

All the action is bathed in Lauren Duffie's gorgeous, rich lighting design after the sun sets, which dances off Abigail Mansfield Coleman's opulent, rich costumes and Marianna Coffey's rustic scenic design, accented by banners billowing gently in Sunday night's breeze.

This production peers into a past that continues to play out in an alarming way today. As I walked to my car afterward, I heard the woman behind me describe it as "Shakespeare's English propaganda play." To me, it's a cautionary tale, forsooth.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com


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