Early in World War I, a story published first in a London newspaper and later in numerous parish magazines, described the Battle of Mons in which phantom bowmen from Agincourt came to aid badly outnumbered British soldiers. The actual outcome of this fight in which advancing German troops were overcome by the British was thereby publicized beginning to make the British public realize that winning the war would not be easy.
This back story is the central motif for The Angel of Mons, a two-plus hour play under the auspices of FRIGID New York in a March Forth Production at Under St. Mark’s Theater through April 4th. The setting is spare–dark walls, a few boxes and some blankets– and feels very appropriate for this tiny theater. Six British soldiers have been separated from their company and fall into the ruins of a house where, in a root cellar, they find an eight-year-old boy and his dead parents.
To kill time before the next morning’s assault, the men play cards, drink and read Shakespeare, notably Henry V. At one point, the boy runs away causing the soldiers to rethink their feelings about him until they see him not as an annoyance but as a figure to be protected and almost revered. They also find their feelings for their default leader, George, turning from dislike to admiration.
In Act II, many philosophical truths are told –that enemy troops are men who dislike war just like British soldiers; that kings are regular people albeit cloaked in the robes of ceremony; that war deaths weight heavily upon both commanders and fighting solders.
Much of the play makes use of Henry V verbatim, beginning with the version staged by George to amuse Harry, the boy, as King Henry was known. It’s hard to compete with the Bard which make the words of playwright Eric C. Webb less gripping. As soon as the St. Crispen’s Day speech begins, my mind drifted to the wonderful productions I’ve seen going back to Lawrence Olivier in the 1944 film. These young actors try hard but their performances can’t match classic eloquence and their British accents slip.
The play is well-staged making the most of the cramped space and actors Michael Broadhurst as George, Christopher Basile as Frank and Ben Stroman as Alfred get high marks. Eleven- year- old Sophia Spiegel works hard as Harry to make a convincing young boy. Laura Archer gets a shout-out for direction as does Tim Bell whose fight directions result in credible tussles.
The last fifteen minutes cry out for editing but overall there are affecting moments. The historical events are worth the attention and my guess is that playwright Webb’s career is on an upward trajectory.
To find out more about March Forth Productions’ The Angel of Mons, please visit their website.