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HENRY V

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Blue Sphere Alliance's decision to mount Henry V could not come at a more appropriate time. Shakespeare's celebration of the newly crowned king that once was the rascal, drunken, thieving prince in a lowly world of drugs and hazing holds particular relevance to America's welcoming of Dubya into the White House. A self-proclaimed "ragtag band of actors" as ethnically diverse as Bush's cabinet and armed with a few sticks and a gong set out to make the minimalist tradition of Shakespeare proud. But this dedicated ensemble fights an uphill battle, beset by a handful of dangerous elements that threaten to remove the "r" from "Bard." A casual greeting from the ensemble, an overabundance of echoes, poorly constructed masks, eerie atmospheric music, and handstands are just a few of director Richard Embardo's impeachable offences.

The gender-blind cast of 12 proves more than adequate for the futile challenge, with Johanna Parker leading the way in a striking and passionate turn as Henry. Ultimately, the production fails to proclaim a sense of raison d'être; the casting reveals nothing new about Shakespeare's text, and the uncreative use of props just exposes the miniscule budget of the company.

It's a shame, too, because the talent here deserves more. Ben Crowley, Vanessa Giorgio, and Tim Karasawa stand out in a variety of smaller roles. Giampiero Judica enjoys two scenes of campy comic relief as Katherine's maid Alice, the other obvious gender-neutral casting. This is not a company lacking in talent, and money is no excuse, either. What they crave enormously is guidance, vision, and creativity; and Embardo, the fundraising manager of Blue Sphere Alliance, simply does not have it in him. This particularly shows in the insufficient staging of the Battle of Agincourt, which comes nowhere near exploring the magnitude or importance of this landmark event in military and political history. An awkward sense of timing and poor integration of flashback scenes with Falstaff plagues much of the rest of the show.

"Henry V," presented by Blue Sphere Alliance and Anthony Barnao at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jan. 12-Feb. 18. $15. (818) 906-0675.

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