I was so impressed by Lumina Studio Theatre’s Brother Hal, adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry V by David Minton and Jamie Raskin, which was performed on Sunday, May 4th at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. Directed by David Minton, one of the founders of the celebrated youth Shakespeare Company, it champions and retells the story of the American Labor movement with the multiple battles for worker rights, utilizing the rhetoric of Shakespeare. Of course Henry V is the story of a physical battle between two armies with a different mission and outcome. The program notes report that, “It is important to note that no adaption of Shakespeare is ever “perfect” – and we probably wouldn’t want it that way.” The challenge of the retelling of mostly boardroom confrontations, some actual fights, and passive resistance requires some deviation from the facts in the interest of entertainment. Another challenge is the need to incorporate large numbers of speaking parts. Fortunately the young actors here were on the mark, displaying prodigious ability to sprout lengthy dialogue featuring Shakespearean language while moving confidently and sometimes amusingly across the stage.
This company demonstrates awesome training in choreography, delivery of emotional range, and even accents. An amusing bit was the part in which the Owner’s daughter is taught English by a maid who apparently learned it from someone from Brooklyn. It was not initially clear why this French speaking socialite was a part of this performance, but this was resolved later on when she agreed to marry the labor leader, a signal of the eventual total capitulation of the owners to the striking workers. There was also a character who seemed to be Russian, and whose character was also played for laughs.
The staging was quite ambitious, and included a battle scene with stop action and fog representing police attempting to gas the protesters. Helping to some degree to locate the drama in America was a trio of musicians who played protest songs and led the audience in singalongs. The automobile company here was the French Company (aka Ford, I guess) and the main leader’s name was London. There was an initial period of confusion due to these geographic reference points and the arcane and erudite Shakespearean dialogue.
The guest musicians were Tina Chancey, Bruce Hutton and Molly Graham Hickman. They performed songs, some of them historic, celebrating workers standing together and fighting for worker rights some people now take for granted. Songs included “Union Town”, “This Land is Your Land”, and “Solidarity Forever”.
Standout performances were delivered by Jadyn Brick as Fluellen. I was about to describe her as a “pistol,” but there is a character named Pistol, an effective Keegan Vernon-Clay. Both of them displayed terrific physical comedy skills and were rarely at rest during the 2 hour and 45 minute performance. Henry was played by Ben Lickerman, who had a great deal of material in his role as the labor leader who is transformed by the burdens of leadership and who faces up to the possibility, even likelihood of being ultimately dispatched by his adversaries. Lickerman delivered a powerful performance.
The staging was very ambitious and there were smooth transitions and effective iconography projected on the walls. The young actors, mostly in their early teens, were very good and dressed in little suits with fedora hats, sometimes double breasted, and in costumes reflecting worker styles of the 30’s they presented a picturesque and subliminally amusing crew. The Boss, Mr. France, wore a white linen suit from a spring clothing collection, while the workers were ready for winter and fall. One of the women wore a short pink silk dress which displayed considerable amounts of bright yellow pantaloons. Fluellen is dressed in bib overalls. Several of the actors wore bowler hats and one wore a tailcoat. Perhaps this was intended to suggest the universalism of the struggle, set in a Flint, Michigan Auto Plant. There were intermittent comedy bits which helped to vary the emotional tone of the play.
Jim Porter’s set was astounding, and a lot of thought has gone into the representation of the factory and the construction of barricades and other paraphernalia. Costume Designer Wendy Eck found all the suits and even junior-sized police uniforms. Also contributing to the excellent production design was Video and Sound Engineer Ran Murphy, Lighting Designer and Board Operator Eve Vawter, and Makeup Design by Morphiage, LLC.
For each show, Lumina undertakes rehearsals for 13 weeks of afternoons as well as weekend intensives. This is a group with a committed following of repeating performers who should have substantial resumes by the time they graduate from high school. Their commitment and training in physical comedy, acting, and ensemble work definitely shows. There is even a second cast of performers who alternate, resulting in a very large company and a large number of appreciative parents in attendance.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Brother Hal plays Saturday and Sunday, May 10 and 11, 2014 at Lumina Studio Theatre performing at Round House Theatre-8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006, or purchase them online.