Ben Dibble Finds His Inner-Shakespeare as Henry V
Charles McMahon, director at the Lantern Theater's gritty production of Shakespeare's Henry V, revives the tradition of spreading the dozens of roles among seven ensemble players. The actors changing costumes, characters, accents and physical appearance without skipping a beat; but not switching roles is Ben Dibble in a subtly steely performance as the tentative King Henry.
Dibble is known as one of the region's most accomplished musical comedy actors and with leads in such hits as "The Year of Frog and Toad" and "Candide" (Arden Theater) and last year's Mauckingbird production of Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen's gay themed musical "[title of show]."
After the opening week, Dibble spoke to EDGE about the role and admitted he felt a little "beat up" mainly because the production had only two and a half weeks before preview week.
"I studied Shakespeare in college and I did 'Taming' at the Lantern several years ago, but I haven't done a whole lot. I had wanted to play Henry but thought it was going to pass me by, because I was getting too old for it. Actually, I think the role is close to musical comedy because the rhythms in the language. About a year ago Charles called me and said Lantern Theater was doing it. So many other good actors where up for it, but Charles decided to go with me, so, needless to say, I was over the moon," Dibble said.
McMahon wanted a visceral, reality-based version of Henry that tapped into more stagecraft and less technical accouterment. "So it was a trial by fire for everyone else because they were all doing multiple roles, but we wanted as purely theatrical production as possible that would completely engage the audience."
We think of Henry V as this charismatic king, but Charles (McMahon) underlines the fact that for much of the play he’s failing as a leader. So much of the first act is about the journey of watching Henry deal with adversity, which is something that I was particular interested in portraying. And when they hit the breech in France, it’s not really a rally; (it is) our army is getting routed. I didn’t want him to be a generic, rousing monarch. I wanted to explore this guy’s human journey. He is out of his depth for much of the play, but rises to the moment. We see him becoming a man," Dibble observed.
In a Shakespeare reversal, the two women in the cast play a number of boy messengers, soldiers and royals. K. O. DelMarcelle also plays opposite Dibble, in key scenes, as the French princess Katherine, who Henry courts even as he tries to forge a future peace with France. It is the second play DelMarcelle and Dibble have co-starred in at the Lantern.
"I was thrilled of course when I found out that K.O. was cast. Last year we did ’Private Lives,’" Dibble said. But instead of bickering as they did in Coward’s play, the couple clumsily come together as they speak different languages. "We have that last comic scene, which is so different from what comes before, that we were unsure how funny we could be," Dibble observes. "One of the challenges was to figure out how much Katherine understands my English. We had to find the moments when she’s totally lost and the moments when I am making romantic headway with her."
They need not have worried. "When we got in front of the audience in previews it was just gangbusters, the audience is just hungry for that comedy after going through all of the intensity of the battles."
Lantern Theater Company’s production of Henry V runs through April 14, 2013. Check for more information.