Shakespeare's Henry V is probably best known from the film versions starring and directed by Laurence Olivier (1944) and Kenneth Branagh (1989).
The memory of these productions puts local performers at a disadvantage, and the play itself, with its heroic declamations, its scenes of pageantry and battle, offers serious challenges.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company tackles the show boldly and comes off with credit.
The outdoor production is being presented through July 6 at Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, alternating with As You Like It.
Does Henry V have a right to invade France? That's the great question facing the young king. For private reasons, the Archbishop of Canterbury tries to convince the king that he does.
Henry is undecided until he receives an insulting message from the dauphin, son of the king of France, mocking his youth and inexperience.
The dauphin has sent a gift of tennis balls, implying that Henry should stick to sports and games and not pretend to the maturity of a king.
Shakespeare's audiences, who had seen Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, knew what the dauphin meant. While his father was alive, Prince Henry had been a playboy, fond of carousing and low company.
Now, facing the responsibilities of kingship, he is a changed man. He has renounced his former drinking companions, chief among them old Sir John Falstaff. Unwilling to overlook an insult to his crown, he orders his followers to prepare for war with France.
The fortunes of Henry's campaign swing back and forth, the scenes alternating between the English camp and the French court and camp.
Bad weather and sickness weaken Henry's outnumbered army, but he refuses French messages urging him to surrender.
He rallies his men - "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" - to one final effort, and the French are defeated.
Patrick Kilpatrick is a strong and energetic Henry, but he delivers his speeches - stirring, defiant, thoughtful, determined - with an impassive face. Frank B. Moorman gives a human spirit to his uncle, the Duke of Exeter.
The arrogant, conceited dauphin is portrayed by Colby Codding; the mature and confident constable of France by Nathan Thomas.
Steve Beall gives a boisterous performance as Fluellen, a brave Welshman who insists on parading his knowledge of military history and tactics before his fellow officers.
Laura Sicari, as Katharine, the French princess, and Lesley Malin, as her lady in waiting, cleverly put over a comic scene spoken in French.
Several characters from the Henry IV plays return in Henry V. Dame Quickly (Christina Schlegel) and Falstaff's servants Bardolph (Kevin Costa) and Pistol (Michael P. Sullivan) are joined by a new character called Nym (Codding).
The three men provide most of the show's low comedy. They go to France with the English army but make sure to stay out of danger. All of them come to bad ends.
The chorus, a narrator who introduces the play and returns occasionally to fill in background information, is forcefully portrayed by Lindsay Kitt Wiebe. Traditionally, the chorus remains outside the action, but director James Ricks has chosen to have Wiebe blend occasionally into the show.
With no change of costume, she morphs into the bishop of Ely, Sir Thomas Erpingham and finally the Duke of Burgundy. This is certain to bewilder audience members not familiar with the play.
Several other actors handle multiple roles more comprehensibly. Chief among them are Frank Mancino (the king of France and Williams, a common soldier) and Costa (the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bardolph and a soldier called Bates).
Pageantry, battle scenes, the grandeur of Shakespeare's conception - these things are hard to get across with limited forces on a bare stage. It helps if the audience brings its imagination to the production, as Shakespeare's audiences did. As the chorus puts it, "Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts."
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents "Henry V" on June 16, 17, 22, 23, July 1 and 6 at Patapsco Female Institute, 3691 Sarahs Lane, Ellicott City. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. The performance June 23 will be a doubleheader, with "Henry V" at 4 p.m. and "As You Like It" at 8 p.m. Free parking in the Howard County Courthouse lot on Court House Drive. Tickets: 866-811-4111, or www.chesapeakeshakespeare. com. Information: 410-752-3994.