Jack of all trades

On stage: Fox Chase act­or Dav­id Bardeen (right) plays the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V.’ Photo by Paola Noguer­as

The last time Fox Chase act­or Dav­id Bardeen was on­stage at the Lan­tern Theat­er, he played the role of the chief rabbi of Am­s­ter­dam in the com­pany’s re­mount­ing of the highly suc­cess­ful play New Jer­u­s­alem. It was the open­ing pro­duc­tion this sea­son.

Now, he’s back on the Lan­tern stage, this time, as the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury in the com­pany’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

It brings Brit­ish his­tory from 600 years ago vividly to life. The young king as­cen­ded the Brit­ish throne in 1413 after a bloody civil war and took on chal­lenges that in­cluded wa­ging war with France. 

As the head of the Church of Eng­land, Bardeen’s char­ac­ter is a com­mand­ing pres­ence who is the first to speak when the play opens. He de­liv­ers a speech that re­veals the church’s in­terest in wa­ging war in France.

“It’s a long speech, both com­ic and com­plic­ated, and I have to make it clear to the audi­ence,” the act­or said.

He didn’t plan it this way, but it’s the third time in one sea­son that he’s played a re­li­gious fig­ure. Bardeen also played an Ir­ish priest in In­ter­Act Theatre’s The Exit In­ter­view.  Now, in Henry V, which con­tin­ues un­til April 14, he’s the head of the Church of Eng­land. 

“I’m not a strongly re­li­gious per­son,” said Bardeen, 41, whose own re­li­gion is “between Meth­od­ist and Pres­by­teri­an.”

“Yet, I play these power­ful re­li­gious fig­ures” he con­tin­ued.  “It’s been in­ter­est­ing and grat­i­fy­ing to fig­ure out how to play each of them.” 

The arch­bish­op’s role is not his only chal­lenge in this pro­duc­tion. To bring the sweep­ing his­tory to life, sev­en of the eight cast mem­bers play mul­tiple roles. Ben Dibble in the title role in the lone ex­cep­tion.

“We play a total of 30 roles, switch­ing back and forth between roles. It’s crazy!” Bardeen said cheer­fully.

For in­stance, right after Bardeen’s ap­pear­ance as the dig­ni­fied arch­bish­op, he trans­forms him­self in­to a low com­ic fig­ure, Bardoff, the drunk.

Speedily, the act­or takes off his regal white robe. Un­der­neath, he’s in a ba­sic cos­tume. He puts on a red nose made of cork, places a dag­ger in his belt and a bottle in his hand, and takes fre­quent swigs (not of al­co­hol, but of wa­ter).

In some scenes, he even switches between na­tion­al­it­ies, play­ing Gower, a Brit­ish sol­dier, and then a name­less French sol­dier who at­tacks Henry V. 

“But he over­powers me and breaks my neck with his bare hands,” said the act­or. When Dibble, as the king, gives a cue, “I turn my neck and shake my head from side to side,” Bardeen said. “And then I drop like a sack of pota­toes, while mak­ing a hor­rible gurg­ling sound. Hope­fully, it’s grue­some!”

In con­trast, as Gower, he’s a com­pet­ent Brit­ish sol­dier who shows his skill as an arch­er. “Our fight cho­reo­graph­er made these amaz­ing bows with ar­rows in­side. You pull the bow and it looks like we’re re­leas­ing an ar­row,” he said. “It’s very cool.”

Then, near the close of the play, Bardeen be­comes a peace­maker. He’s Bour­bon, a wealthy French noble try­ing to broker a peace agree­ment. “I make an elo­quent speech, plead­ing for an end to strife, and peace to reign,” Bardeen said.

Play­ing these mul­tiple roles, es­pe­cially the speak­ing roles, Bardeen must find ways to pro­tect his voice. “I drink co­pi­ous amounts of wa­ter,” he said. 

It’s not the first time Bardeen has taken on the­at­ric­al chal­lenges. The role of chief rabbi also in­volved sev­er­al lengthy and in­tense speeches. Then, too, some years ago, he played the key role of Ed­mund in Eu­gene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Jour­ney in­to Night, an­oth­er Lan­tern pro­duc­tion.

After earn­ing his mas­ter’s de­gree from the Yale School of Drama, the Main Line nat­ive lived in Los Angeles and had TV, film and stage roles.  

After mov­ing back to Phil­adelphia, he’s per­formed on many area stages and earned a Bar­ry­more Award for best sup­port­ing act­or in an In­ter­Act Theatre pro­duc­tion. 

Now he’s de­lighted to re­turn to the Lan­tern stage. 

“The Lan­tern is one of those theat­ers where act­ors can ex­plore and ex­per­i­ment with their own in­ter­pret­a­tions,” he said. He’s also pleased to be work­ing again with dir­ect­or Charles McMa­hon. 

Un­der McMa­hon’s dir­ec­tion, the cast of eight has be­come very close knit. “We were thrown in­to this huge Shakespeare pro­duc­tion, and it’s really bon­ded us,” he said. “There was so much pre­par­a­tion for such an ex­tens­ive pro­duc­tion. It al­most felt like we fought a war to­geth­er.” ••


Henry V runs through April 14 at the Lan­tern Theat­er, 10th and Lud­low streets in Cen­ter City. Tick­ets avail­able on­line at lan­terntheat­er.org or at the box of­fice,    215-829-0395.

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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