To celebrate the inaugural opening night of its existence, New Fortune Theatre Company recruited bagpipe players in full Scottish regalia to play outside Ion Theatre's BLKBOX space in Hillcrest, which, at least for now, will serve as the fledgling company's home. The bagpipers were also celebrating St. Crispin's Day, which is not only Oct. 25 (New Fortune's opening night), but also directly connected to Henry V, the evening's Shakespearean production. (Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech is one of the most famous in all the Bard's history plays.)
New Fortune's Henry V is co-directed (with Matthew Henerson) by Richard Baird, who also stars in the titular role. The accomplished, baritone-voiced actor is the new company's artistic director. Henry V is a rambling historical vehicle rife with battlefield bloodshed and righteous orations from the English king who lusts to add France to his realm. That Baird and Henerson are able to stage a play with a cast of 14 in Ion's compact space and do so with minimalist set pieces is quite an achievement. Somehow, the combat scenes, aided by booming sound effects, are plausible, and Henry's army, which includes New Fortune Associate Artistic Director Matt Thompson, scatter back and forth with startling precision.
The play is overlong (exceeding three hours, with intermission), and the subplots anchored by comic characters Pistol (John Tessmer) and Mistress Quickly (Dana Hooley) just slow everything down. But Baird is commanding as the oft-inspirational king, particularly in Act 2, when we're treated to the moving St. Crispin's Day "band of brothers" speech. Amanda Schaar (New Fortune's managing director) shines in a hilarious lost-in-translation scene with Hooley (in a different role), and as the play's recurring narrator, Jessica John is charming and, if you know John's work around town, as charismatic as ever.
Even with its long-windedness, Henry V is a diverting picture of 15th-century imperialism and royal ambition, and the production is a showcase for Baird, for whom the mission of the new theater company is "world class productions of original classics." You can't get any more ambitious than "worldclass." Here's hoping New Fortune finds its place in the local theater landscape.
Henry V runs through Nov. 9. $30-$35.newfortunetheatre.com
Grove: Ion Theatre presents a workshop production—meaning, it will evolve throughout the run—of a new play by Ion Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris, about two estranged brothers who return home to visit a sick sibling and confront old secrets. Opens Oct. 30 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Off the Coffin: An Improvaganza: A Halloween version of Patio Playhouse's "Off the Cuff" night of improvisational comedy theater. It happens on Oct. 31 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Upon the Fragile Shore: A staged reading of a new play focused on global human rights and environmental issues. It happens on Nov. 3 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Water by the Spoonful: San Diego State University presents this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about an Iraq War veteran who struggles upon his return home to Philadelphia. Opens Oct. 31 at SDSU's Experimental Theatre. ttf.sdsu.edu
Johnny Tenorio : In celebration of Day of the Dead, Chronos Theatre Group will present a new version of legend of womanizer Don Juan, and each performance will be followed by a fiesta. Ends Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. chronostheatre.com
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde : This is the 2009 adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of the classic story of the good and evil that resides in us all. Through Nov. 1 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Bright Star : A world-premiere musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell about a soldier who returns home to North Carolina from World War II, hooks up with a literary-journal editor and, with her, discovers a life-changing secret. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Fool for Love : Performed in rotation with True West , Sam Shepard's drama tells the tale of a woman resisting the offer to return to a dysfunctional existence with an old flame. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Little Mermaid Jr. : An adaptation of the 2008 Broadway play about Ariel the mermaid, who wants to live in the terrestrial world. Through Nov. 2 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Les Miserables : In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Nov. 2 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Royale : In the early 20th century, a black heavyweight boxer finally has the chance to fight for the championship, but his sister is worried about the aftermath should he win. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
She-rantulas from Outer Space in 3D : Back by popular demand—a comedy about an invading horde of mutant monsters and small-town mom who learns a horrible truth about her little daughter Suzie. Through Nov. 2 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
True West : Performed in rotation with Fool for Love , Sam Shepard's dark comedy is about two formerly estranged brothers—younger Austin, a screenwriter, and older Lee, a thief who horns in on Austin's career. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Henry V : The first main-stage production of the New Fortune Theatre Company is Shakespeare's play about the young English king who leads his army into battle against France and woos a French princess. Through Nov. 9 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Rounding Third : Two dads clash amid conflicting Little League coaching styles. Through Nov. 9 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Freud's Last Session : Mark St. Germain's play chronicles a fictional meeting between renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and novelist C.S. Lewis. Through Nov. 16 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Spamalot : Fred is not yet dead in the musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail . Through Nov. 30 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Hunchback of Notre Dame : A new musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's story of the not-super-attractive bell ringer Quasimodo and the enchanting gypsy Esmeralda. Through Dec. 7 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me : Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net