Just in time for coat weather, two local companies are draping Shakespeare plays in new raiment. Faction of Fools Theatre Company’s ebullient and ingenious “Henry V” displays the company’s signature commedia dell’arte stamp. Director Paul Reisman has opted for a show-the-theatrical-seams approach: Portraying myriad characters, the six actors switch costumes and masks in full view of the audience, which is surrounded by, and looking at, an in-the-wings environment. It’s an apt strategy, given that the Chorus speeches of “Henry V” regularly acknowledge theater’s limitations.
And it’s a strategy that dovetails nicely with the idea of a commedia troupe in full antic mode. These “Henry V” characters — swaggering English soldiers, conceited French aristocrats and even the clergy — are irresistible, capering clowns, rarely far from fisticuffs or mayhem. Only King Henry (Kiernan McGowan) retains a smidgen of heroic glamour, despite his mask’s elongated nose. (Aaron Cromie designed the masks.)
The actors display confident commedia physicality, and the comic universe registers as bright and coherent. When the Archbishop of Canterbury (Jesse Terrill) justifies the war to the English royal entourage, he naturally gets several courtiers tangled up in a scroll. When two French lords (Terrill and Ben Lauer) need to kindle a campfire — it’s actually a ghost light — they of course try to generate a spark by rubbing quarterstaffs together. (The fine cast also includes Hannah Sweet, Julie Weir, and Casey Johnson-Pasqua.)
At times — as with a battlefield scene that involves a rolling laundry hamper — the production seems to be lampooning the glorification of war. One of the play’s Chorus speeches (these come across in bracing fashion, with actors divvying up the lines) envisages the audience “minding true things by what their mock’ries be.” The mockeries in this “Henry V” do point to truths — and they’re also a lot of fun.
Exuberance and insight also turn up in WSC Avant Bard’s slightly fitful “Illyria, or What You Will,” a “Twelfth Night” reimagining that adapters Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hébert have set in an underground queer club in early 1980s Manhattan. Hébert directs the production, a 90-minute immersive medley of Shakespeare snippets, brash modern attitude and dance-hall musical hooks.
Hipster characters — who represent various spots on the gender and sexuality spectra — vamp, spar and carouse throughout the Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two, which has been transformed into the Club Illyria, complete with cabaret tables. DJ Feste (an enjoyable Frank Britton, in yellow robe) presides over the joint, which is frequented by owner Orsino (Matthew Sparacino); singer Olivia (Dani Stoller); Olivia’s fuddy-duddy manager, Malvolio (Christopher Henley); Orsino’s new employee Cesario (Ezra Tozian, who uses the pronoun “they,” as the character does), and others. The romantic outcomes diverge from the Bard’s original.
Club Illyria is a diverting high-concept premise, and one that nicely matches the carnivalesque gender-, identity- and music-related twists of “Twelfth Night.” The show also benefits from Stoller’s splendidly flirtatious, self-aware Olivia. (Kristen P. Ahern designed the zesty costumes, and Jos. B. Musumeci Jr., the set.)
But the storytelling can be muddy or unduly truncated; the toggling between Shakespeare’s language and modern vernacular sometimes feels arbitrary; and the shenanigans of Toby (Katie Gallagher) and coke fiend Andrew (Jenna Rossman) are tedious. “Illyria” sounds a ringing note, but you don’t want to say “Play on.”
Henry V by William Shakespeare. Directed by Paul Reisman; costumes, Lynly A. Saunders; lighting, Chris Curtis; props, Vanessa Spring-Frank. Two hours. Tickets: $12-$22. Through Nov. 11 at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave NE. factionoffools.org or 866-710-8942. Illyria, or What You Will, freely adapted from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” by Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hébert. Directed by Hébert; music composer/sound designer, Aaron Bliden; lighting, John D. Alexander; choreography, Emma Loughran Hébert; intimacy director/assistant choreographer, Claudia Rosales Waters; properties, Liz Long. With Emma Loughran Hébert, Miss Kitty LeLynx, Adam Lemos and Montana Monardes. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $40. Through Nov. 18 at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. avantbard.org or 703-418-4808.