A leader evolved on the Folger stage

Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

The current show at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre is an exhilarating production of Shakespeare's "Henry V," a play full of substance and wit under any conditions. This production is extraordinarily substantial and witty.

There are many reasons why this "Henry" is appealing, but they all point back to a central fact: Director Robert Richmond has a unified view of the world that his Henry inhabits, and from that fact, all the play's comedy, tragedy and romance makes perfect sense.

The story of a young king struggling to keep the uneasy peace between England and France, "Henry V" takes place immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the famous battle where England fought bravely and won over a militarily superior France.

'Henry V'
Where: Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE
When: Through March 3
Info: $30 to $68; 202-544-7077;

Richmond has cast his major role brilliantly. The part of Henry calls for an actor who can display extremes of pity, anger, humor and self-doubt. Zach Appelman does all that and more, making every facet of his young king seem part of a larger and more fascinating whole. Whether he is cheering on his troops before battle or musing on the happiness a king can achieve or wooing the lovely princess of France, Appelman makes it clear that he embodies a complex character who is deep, decisive and capable of great human feeling.

Most of the other members of Richmond's ensemble are equally striking. Katie deBuys is charming as Katherine of France, and the scene where Catherine Flye, as her lady-in-waiting, teaches Katherine certain English words is one of the finest, and funniest, in the play.

Richard Sheridan Willis plays a variety of roles in this "Henry," from the Chorus to a French herald; he excels at capturing a broad spectrum of nuanced attitudes. The play's delicious low comedy is portrayed well by Michael John Casey as Nym, James Keegan as Pistol and Louis Butelli as Bardolph.

This "Henry" is a beautiful production, from its use of music to Andrew Griffin's effective lighting design to Mariah Hale's lush costumes, which set it squarely in a time when men wore doublets and knee-high boots and women wore gorgeous brocades.

But more impressive than the production's beauty is Appelman and Richmond's clear-eyed shared vision of the young, brash, sensitive man who is determined to become a king worth following.

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