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Molina disappears into phenomenal 'Henry V'

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...."

— William Shakespeare, "Henry V," Act III, Scene 1

Rosa Joshi's "Henry V" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is presented at the Thomas Theatre, the smallest of the available Festival spaces with, at most, 360 seats. Scenic design by Richard L. Hay, now in his 61st season at OSF, is simple and stark and, inevitably, overflowing with casual genius. Costuming is restrained but excellent. Lighting is designed with discreet brilliance, with a Conrad Hall-like luminescence that truly sets the stage.

You might ask, why is the reviewer warbling on about production values? Because it's important, in the context of this show, to understand that  whether it be intentional or not — OSF's entire current production of "Henry V" seems set up to incubate a performance that is an indicator of many things. It speaks to the excellence of this Festival when it comes to interpreting Shakespeare in ever more refreshing and compelling ways.

It shows Joshi to be a director of great talent and seriousness. It lifts the game of other actors in the performance, and gives the strongest ones among them cause to happily empty their quivers. And in terms of the goals of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in growing its reputation as a national player with a reach that extends beyond the Left Coast, it's likely no mistake that the actor responsible for giving this brilliant production its wings had much of his artistic steel forged under the hot lights of Broadway.

Gushy? Certainly. But Daniel Jose Molina deserves it. His performance as Henry is the best thing I have ever seen at the Festival. Vulnerable yet ruthless, humane but also reptilian, a mighty sovereign in some scenes and a gentle friend in others, Molina's Henry is a ruler of contrast and contradictory motivations whose rise is as vicious and slicked with blood as it is weirdly triumphant.

I watched Molina very closely at every moment that he was on stage, searching for clues as to where the actor might be. It was unnerving; the young man of whom I had caught glimpses during his work in 2017 as Prince Hal in "Henry IV, Part 1" and "Henry IV, Part II" during 2017 is gone.

Molina himself at least for the two and a half hours when I was trying to catch him out this Friday last — had evaporated. The preparation and passion involved in preparing himself to take on one of the most vaunted roles in the canon had paid off to such an extent that the character of Henry — Henry's appetites, Henry's motives, and Henry's character  seems to have turned on Mr. Molina like the Frankenstein monster of Konstantin Stanislavski and eaten him whole. In one scene, Molina was ripping through a massive and exalted section of the play not 3 feet from my chair  still, I could not see him acting. I only saw Henry.

The only issue that arises when presented with this level of professional acting is the annoying inevitability that many of the patrons who have the great privilege of seeing Molina in this role won't have the personal discipline or the human decency to give him the attention that this performance deserves. It will be their loss.

Fine performances abound throughout the rest of the assembled actors, with some particularly touching and amusing scenes from OSF stalwart Michele Mais as Hostess Quickly. Tyrone Wilson is a muscular presence as the Duke of Exeter, Henry's éminence grise. Jessica Ko and Mais provide some much needed humorous relief in between all the scenes of machismo and skirmish, and Kimberly Scott is a sly and witty presence in her roles as Pistol and Sir Thomas Grey. The rest of the ensemble shows no weak links.

"Henry V" is a masterful marriage of tradition and interpretive brilliance that is in keeping with a strong standard of excellence thus far for the 2018 season. It's a phenomenal piece of theater, and well worth your time.

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.