08/15/2011 01:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

Classical Theatre of Harlem's Henry V : I Love It When You Speak French

As we watch the Republicans plan their strategy for toppling the American president, the question of what makes a good leader, indeed, a good man (of either gender) is played out, not in our current political arena, but onstage at the Malcom X & Dr.Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, at the Classical Theatre of Harlem's concise, snazzy production of Shakespeare's Henry V.

A history play in the bard's dramatic sequence on King Henry, Henry V follows the young prince as he evolves to manhood, and leadership. For CTH, as directed by Jenny Bennett and starring the company's artistic director Ty Jones, that narrative could be the blueprint for a ghetto kid who rises to be president. Rowdy Prince Hal has needed to clean up his act, and so he does.

The talented ensemble, when we first encounter it, taking the bare stage as if readying for a basketball pick up game, evokes street idioms, albeit costumed (Rachel Dozier-Ezell) a la bondage, gashes and stitched leather, taking a cue from Alexander McQueen. Actors do the traditional theater thou-shalt-nots (shut cell phones, unwrap candies, etc.) as a round. When they break into Shakespearean language, that is the play, it is jarring, a wake-up call for change. And of course it's political, pared down -- 90 minutes sans intermission -- a story of love and war.

Characters do double duty with the doffing of a hat. Carin Montbertrand is especially hilarious in her various roles including the Archbishop of Canterbury, soldier Nym, and Alice, maid to Princess Katherine (a fine Fedna Jacquet). Speaking French with her lady, she is all gesture to the point that you follow every nuance of meaning whether or not you know the Gallic tongue. The battle scenes are choreographed with grace and clanging menace (sound design, Patricia Ju, lighting, Colin D. Young), conveying with elegance Shakespeare's disdain for war: use only when absolutely necessary.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.