We band of brothers

Young actors bring a Spartan production of Henry V to the Apohadion
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  May 19, 2010

THEATER052110_Henry_main
BAREFOOT KING Michael Dix Thomas as Henry V. 
Replete with floppy cardboard props (some of which were chomped on), dry-humping, and an intermission rendition of an ’80s pop hit, the Tess Van Horn-directed production of Alfred Jarry’s absurdist classic Ubu Roi blew through the Apohadion and SPACE Gallery with all the organized chaos of a tornado last winter. It was a dose of punk-rock energy rarely — ever? — exhibited in Portland’s fairly conservative theater scene, and it was greeted with justified enthusiasm. The show was successful enough that the team behind the show are in the early planning stages of a follow-up endeavor; in the meantime, one of its actors, Michael Dix Thomas, stars in a more straight-faced but similarly crafty production of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by Adam Patterson. After opening in New York City, Thomas’s company — called Kill Mike Use — travels to Portland for a string of shows at the Apohadion this weekend.

This is the first independent production by the group of five friends who met at Boston’s Emerson College, where they helmed incarnations of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and Sam Shepard’s True West. Most of them have some classical Shakespearean training, thanks to summer programs at the prestigious Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, an education that plays into one of Kill Mike Use’s primary missions: to keep the focus of their performances on the text.

Another is efficiency and mobility. “The concept, if there had to be one,” Thomas said in a phone conversation last week, was “that Adam was working with was this group of actors that have got everything they have for the show in a trunk and cart it around wherever they can.” For a show largely based in New York, Henry V was budgeted on a shoestring. The group recently met a $2000 goal on the upstart fundraising Web site Kickstarter, but that barely covers the rental of theater space in Manhattan (which, for their 25-seat venue, runs $1000 a week), let alone rehearsal space, props and costumes, or travel from New York to Portland and back. By the end of the run, the actors hope to at least pay back their own out-of-pocket costs.

Thomas is one of three Mainers who will return home for this weekend at the Apohadion — the others are actors Edward Bauer and Quincy Ellis — to tell an abridged version of Shakespeare’s version of the British king’s attempt to claim the French throne. Featuring eight cast members playing 30 characters, the show will run a daunting 15,000 or so words in somewhere between 70-110 minutes (more cuts were going on while Thomas and I talked), and accessories will be minimal. The costume designer for Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company helped concoct the minimal wardrobes (Thomas wears jeans and a leather jacket through much of the play), which will be changed onstage as the play’s action continues. There is no backstage, nor any stage lighting (house lights will remain on). Likewise, the props are mostly found objects (“including a couple of knives and baseball bats,” Thomas said).

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