Sam Ashdown as Henry V in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Henry V. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)
Theater: Cedar City
A Heavy Reckoning
Utah Shakespeare Festival's Henry V proves the bard's relevancy in the 21st century
If one felt the need to defend the relevance of Shakespeare in the 21st century, it would be difficult to manufacture better coincidences to do so: on the eve of Utah Shakespeare Festival’s staging of Henry V, a play about public morals and individual responsibility, of the duties owed to the state and those demanded by the soul, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair comes under scathing censure for misleading his country into war, and English nationalism is stirred into a feverish pitch by the Brexit campaign.
These are just coincidences, the timing of Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Henry V was decided years ago, when, as part of their “complete the canon” project, the company began presenting Shakespeare’s history plays in their chronological order (Henry IV Part II came in 2015 and Part I in 2014). But they are relevant to the play. For as we watch King Henry struggle with the difficult moral responsibilities inherent in his crown, and the bloody consequences of his sovereign decisions, as we watch him roam his army’s camp in disguise, debating the causes and responsibilities of war with his foot soldiers, we can’t help but wish that some of the sovereign’s “hard condition,” his knowledge of a “heavy reckoning,” had informed Blair’s decisions in the lead up to the Iraq war (his correspondence with George Bush, revealed in the Chilcot Report, suggests otherwise). Or that, like Henry, Blair and Bush had dedicated their own ransomless bodies to their bloody cause.
The play opens with newly crowned Henry, having cast aside his childish ways and embraced the responsibilities of his throne, looking to his claims on the kingdom of France. But before he will lead his countrymen across the channel, he gathers in council with his nobles and clergy, seeking to reconcile to his conscience and country his bellicose enterprise. In a lengthy and convoluted justification, the Archbishop of Canterbury assures him his reasons for war are legally sound, and even absolves him of responsibility: “The sin upon my head, dread sovereign!” he declares.
Upon whose head the sins of this war will weigh is a question that stalks Henry throughout the play. He skirts the phantom of his old friend Falstaff, who dies offstage of a broken heart (and diseased body), but while in France, in order to maintain military discipline, Henry must condemn to the noose Bardolph, another of his original “band of brothers;” and on the fields of Agincourt, about to realize a glorious victory, he discovers the body of the youngest of his youthful cohorts, Boy — a discovery which spurs the usually restrained and merciful king to a bloody vendetta against the captured French as he shoves his own sword into the throat of one captured knight. War, for Henry, is a personal, physical act, and the image of the king bearing the corpse of the young boy off the stage is one we’re not likely to see from our own leaders.
Henry V is a patriotic play. It captures a bright, if brief, moment in English history, when at Agincourt the vastly outnumbered and weary English defeat the pampered and well armored French cavalry, paving the (bloody) way for the union of English and French crowns in the person of Henry VI. Henry’s famous St. Crispin’s day speech has become the model for patriotic rallying cries ever since, from Mel Gibson’s speech in Braveheart to Bill Pullman’s in Independence Day (the latter, in turn, became a rather silly model for Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage during the Brexit campaign). But the fervor of this dangerously jingoistic patriotism is leveled by Henry’s moral wrestlings.
This is Sam Ashdown’s third year in Cedar City as Harry/Hal/King Henry, and he has grown into the present part, inhabiting his role as the maturing king much more comfortably than he did the louche playboy Hal. He plays this ambiguous role convincingly, his Henry a sincere if troubled ruler: he can be furious and indignant when betrayed by his officers and intimates or quietly disturbed as he silently acquiesces to the execution of his former friend; he can be awkward but playful as a lover, restrained and merciful as a victor, vigorous and inspiring as a leader (one anticipates with some pleasure his appearance as Julius Caesar later this season).
Larry Bull, who played Henry IV in the first two parts of the trilogy, also returns this season, satisfying demands in multiple roles but most importantly as the Chorus. Director Brian Vaughan has him hover about the stage long after his lines are delivered, turning his presence—especially for the audiences who will recognize him as Henry IV—into a ghostly witness. Todd Denning’s Fluellen revives some of the Falstaffian vitality from the first two plays (if without the debauchery). And Eddie Lopez’ spoiled and irresponsible dauphin is a perfect foil for Henry.
The sets, music and lighting are equal to the challenge of this virile play: the stage is festooned with floor to ceiling banners (the English St. George Cross will be more easily recognizable since its use by the Brexit “Leave” camp, which was predominantly English), the battle scenes thunder across the smoky planks, and Bardolph’s execution proves physically poignant. In the most striking piece of stage design (courtesy Scott Davis), a giant wax seal, in bloody red, covers the floor—the upper seats will have a better view of its emblazoned V—reminding audience and characters alike of the responsibility that comes with bearing the royal seal.
Responsibility infuses this play with its electrifying touch, and brings it home to our times. Ensconced in the ease of their power and wealth, politicians frequently treat the world like a mere stage for their strutting and posturing, and many a citizen will second their dangerous endeavors; but as we are reminded far too often, in the real world a heavy reckoning awaits: more than a few protest voters awoke surprised and dismayed after the Brexit vote, and the entire world continues to groan under the reckoning of the Iraq invasion.
A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Henry V. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)
Book Review: Art Books
A Life in Art
Biography of Jimmie Jones explores the art and influence of the southern Utah painter
“So, I guess there’s Maynard Dixon and this guy,” a friend muses, thumbing through landscapes of Zion and Grand canyons in The Art and Life of Jimmie Jones. And because he is an excellent landscape painter himself, that comparison sticks.
Although Jones exhibited at Phillips Gallery for more than a decade (1977-88), some people north of southern Utah haven’t heard of this superb (and actually renowned) artist – one with a singular story that finally is being told.
And so it should be. We are all in his debt: it was Jones’ lifetime dream and the initial gift from his estate that helped to make the just-opened Southern Utah Museum of Art in Cedar City a reality. He donated his stunning Rockville studio and home (that he built stone by stone) on 4 acres of land overlooking Zion Canyon (with an estimated worth of $1.5 to $2 million), his last 14 paintings and the copyright to his work to Southern Utah University to help fund its construction. The artworks are on exhibit at SUMA in a gallery bearing his name (see our review here).
Jim Floyd Jones once owned a Volkswagen Bug he dubbed “Tortuga,” which says lots about his personality. Anyone who would name his Beetle after a tortoise must have been a lot of fun to be around. Oh, and he was a smoker (he died of complications from emphysema and lung cancer in 2009 at the age of 76) and a gay man who dwelled quietly most all his life in and near Cedar City, a largely Mormon community. Despite his “differences,” Jones was generally well-liked, though no one in that town of cattlemen and mineworkers (tourism was just on the horizon) ever had tried to make a living as an “artist.”
It helped that Jones’ great-grandfather founded the town and his grandfather served two terms as mayor. His parents were educated and valued books, music and nature. His father and elder brother were associated with the national parks and Jimmie grew up in them, later working summer jobs in the parks with his brothers and sisters. Working and living in the North Rim and Zion for years “enchanted” him, Jimmie once said. The scenery “certainly did sink in.”
All this according to a richly illustrated, coffee table-size book (12”x1”x12”) written by his friend and biographer James M. Aton, professor of English at Southern Utah University. Published in November 2015 by Gibbs Smith, located in Layton and known for its beautiful art books, The Art and Life of Jimmie Jones: Landscape Artist of the Canyon Country is an appealing and absorbing volume. At 264 pages, with many crisp and dreamy reproductions and plenty of revealing text that tells about Jones from childhood crayon drawings through the various “other” artistic periods in his life, this is truly a satisfying work. In fact, it’s difficult to put down, unusual to say about an art book. But Aton’s material is so thoroughly researched, well-presented and about a life so well lived that the words nearly equal the captivating images in holding one’s attention. The book is filled not only with biography but with shrewd critical observations of the work. It’s just a really good read.
It’s hard to resist a revelation like this one: Jones very occasionally repainted his works, lightening them here and there, perhaps adding a cloud or two. It wasn’t always an improvement. In one instance, Aton tells us, Kathy LaFave of the Worthington Gallery, which still represents Jones’ work, asked him to lighten the foreground of a painting of Cedar Canyon so they could resell it. A friend said:”It looked like the way he was illuminating it he was going to have Joseph Smith kneeling in prayer.”
Aton has written several previous books (on John Wesley Powell, the Lower San Juan, and Desolation Canyon) but nothing in the art genre, though he published an article on Jones in Southwest Magazine in 1983.
In the book we learn that Jimmie was one of those talented kids who somehow decide they are an artist at a young age – and for Jones, that, pretty much, was that. He painted portraits and figures early in his career, landscapes almost exclusively for the last 25 years of his life – all of which are lushly represented in Aton’s book along with archival photographs and even the aforementioned crayon drawings, saved by the artist’s mother.
He studied at the Art Center in Los Angeles and the Art Students League of New York (where a lifelong friendship with Utah artist Earl Jones began) before earning his BFA from the U of U in 1961 (where he studied under such greats as Alvin Gittins and Doug Snow and was a teaching assistant for professor and Salt Lake Tribune art critic George Dibble). He spent winters for 12 years in Mexico painting excellent portraits, beach scenes and churches, returning to Utah to spend summers at the family cabin on Cedar Mountain.
Jones estimated that he ultimately completed some 1,400 canvases. They hang in private homes, LDS temples (he needed to acknowledge being Mormon for this to happen), in banks and hospitals as well as museums, but ultimately could only account for a few hundred.
When Jones learned 14 of his paintings were going to be hung at the Braithwaite Gallery at SUU he decided that, although he was deathly ill, the work there needed to be fresh if he was going to be remembered by it. He set out to paint 14 new canvases, and finished them, but was too frail to attend the opening.
He was buried at noon Dec. 12, 2009, on the day the exhibition closed.