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'Henry V' Production Puts New York Harbor Center Stage

LOWER MANHATTAN — Shakespeare fans are being transported across the New York Harbor to the front lines of medieval warfare during a new performance of Henry V.

Spectators became both seafarers and sprightly soldiers during the New York Classical Theatre's rendition of the play, which will be staged at locations across lower Manhattan from Castle Clinton in Battery Park to Governors Island through July 24.

"It's great!" Brooklyn resident and clothing store manager Shannon Ybarra, 42, said of the elaborate production which is part of the River to River Festival.

"I love it because it takes theater to a whole new level."

The free, semi-maritime production is meant to simulate the journey of King Henry and his army from fifteenth-century England as they journey across the English Channel to France, where audience members join 40 actors to act out the Battle of Agincourt in front of the historic Fort Jay.

Before the production began, artistic director Stephen Burdman cautioned that the company's signature interactive style, "Panoramic Theatre," is an ambitious experience for both players and "spectators."

"You've got to stay on your toes!" he warned.

The two-and-a-half hour play led the group in 90 degree heat from the courtyard of Castle Clinton to a State Cruises ferry.

From there, the masses flooded fields of an otherwise-abandoned Governors Island, marching through swarms of mosquitos and fireflies to partake in "battle" by cheering for the English and jeering the French.

"It really makes theater social," Brooklyn resident and technology worker Jason Tagg, 36, said. "You get to interact with people and you don't even get shushed.

"Plus, it helps keep the brain oxygenated, so you don't doze off like in a theatre," he added.

Directions uttered to the audience modified the dialogue of the original play, which was thought to have been written around 1599, but takes place in 1415 during the Hundred Years War.

Most of the audience members delighted in the quirky rendition, but others found that on-the-go viewing wasn't for them.

"I like the idea of following the players, but I'm a slow walker so it was hard to keep up," Upper East Side resident and retired nurse Jane Foss, 69, said. "Plus, it could've benefitted from a sound system."

Both Burdman and audience members agreed that the most unique part was the ferry ride, when players prepared riders for the oncoming battle.

"It's not often that theater artists and audiences get to enjoy a set that encompasses two islands and a waterway," Burdman said.

Henry V takes place from July 5 to 24 at 7 p.m. For dates and directions, visit the River to River Festival website.