By May S. Ruiz
William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ goes on stage at A Noise Within (ANW), the acclaimed repertory theatre company, from February 4 to April 6, 2018. Co-directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, it focuses on the Battles of Harfleur and Agincourt and has been streamlined into a dynamic thrill ride infused with modern relevance.
“‘Henry V’ is a play about going to war, and the propulsive energy that leads to conflict,” declares Elliott. “We’ve zeroed in on the conflict between Henry and France, and captured the unifying, almost euphoric energy that comes with having a shared enemy. While the play is not explicitly for or against war, it does provide an in-depth look at the politics of war and our thirst for conflict. Ours is a very physical, visceral production: we have three fight choreographers and a live percussionist. Expect a fast, furious, and ferocious evening.”
At the center of the intense action is ANW resident artist, Rafael Goldstein, who assumes the title role. He states, “When I found out I was going to be playing Henry I started training – running four or five miles a day – and eating better to get in shape. We spent hours staging the battles. Our fight choreographer, Ken Merckx, and a couple of his assistants have done a fantastic job of putting this together. It’s edge-of-your seat excitement and really bloody action. It’s a spectacle not to be missed.”
Shakespeare’s history play tells the story of King Henry V of England and takes place during the Hundred Years War. ANW’s iteration of it, however, does not specify an era. States Goldstein, “It’s a timeless tale set in a timeless way. Men’s need for conflict and war never goes out of style. When you’re working with a story this malleable and universal you could pretty much do whatever you want with it and the strength of the story would stand up.
This particular production happens in a ritualistic arena where this group of people comes together to tell a story about humanity’s need for conflict. They use Shakespeare’s words and plot to tell this very human story but it isn’t set in 1415 on a battlefield with knights in armor. It’s a modern version of what warfare looks like and what it does to people. While we’ll be sporting contemporary clothes, we’ll still be wielding swords. And we’ll be wearing crowns so the audience can tell who’s the king, the prince, the princess, and so on.”
Ever the professional, Goldstein prepares for his performances seriously. He declares, “No matter what show it is and what role I play, I go over the script two or three times a day. And during the lead-up to rehearsals when we get ‘off-book’ I try to have all my lines memorized before the first run-through so when I get into the room with all the other actors, I can communicate with them and not have to look down at the script.
Memorizing, especially Shakespeare, is a joy. The language is so rich and the characterizations are so clear. He gives you so many clues as to how to read and understand it that it becomes a familiar song, a part of who you are.”
This talented and prolific actor hails from the Pasadena area and his involvement with ANW goes way back. Goldstein discloses, “I was born and raised at the base of these mountains, in Altadena. I went to St. Andrew Catholic School on Raymond Avenue in Pasadena. And then I went to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA).
Actually, the summer before I went to LACHSA, I took the Summer with Shakespeare program at A Noise Within when it was still in Glendale to give me a leg up and little bit more training under my belt before I head into this conservatory-style setting. That fall, ANW contacted me and asked if I wanted to be in their production of Macbeth. So I worked on high school stage productions and professionally with ANW all through high school.
I attended New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts and stayed in New York for a while. When I moved back here in 2011, I rekindled my association with ANW. So not only did I come back to my birth home but to what has become my stage home as well. They cast me in Antony and Cleopatra as Eros, a wonderful little role as Antony’s servant on the battlefield. When Antony realizes that all is lost he asks Eros to kill him. Rather than kill Antony, Eros kills himself instead.
In my many years at ANW, I have played key characters. I had a principal role last season in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia,’ which was an ensemble piece. I’ve also played title roles before but never in a venue like this; it’s challenging in a nice way. One of the obstacles is thinking of Henry as a lead role because even though the world of the play hinges on his experience, that world is still very much alive and independent of him. There are so many things that he can’t control in this world. He causes a lot to happen but things happen to him as well.
Being in a titular role, I do feel a certain amount of responsibility for ensuring our play is well received and resonates with our audience. That’s why I have been preparing for as long as I have and as assiduously as I possibly can. But, like Henry, I can’t take all the credit because there are so many moving parts and aspects to this play. It really does take a village to raise a mountain of a play and incredibly long hours of hard work that goes into the production that the audience will eventually see.”
I have worked in other theatre companies like Theatre Forty and Sacred Fools, and a part-time job at Pasadena Playhouse, but ANW is my home base. ANW and doing theatre are vital to my life; they’re essential to who I am. My poor wife sees me maybe one day a week but that’s the life of an actor – it’s hard and grueling. It’s not always rewarding in the way you would like it to be, you hear the word ‘no’ more than ‘yes.’ But when you do have a job and you’re doing a play that feeds your soul, you couldn’t ask for anything more – it’s the fulfillment of a passion. You give something of yourself to your audience as they watch you on stage. There is a symbiotic relationship between the actor and the audience, a true communion.
Other professional pursuits keep Goldstein busier still. He says, “I do voicing for video games, standing in a dark room screaming into the microphone. I’m also involved in film-making with a friend who has started a small company. Right now he’s doing mostly music videos and we shot one wild little film recently at Joshua Tree. We have plans to put together some shorts and features, going through the fund-raising phase, pitching the idea for possible funding. I’ve been in a number of short films as well and one TV spot on Investigation Discovery Chanel.”
“Theatre is my first love though,” Goldstein hastens to add. “It has been since I first went on stage at the age of three and played one of the sons of Adam and Eve in a little play at a Unitarian Church about the creation of the world. I remember I had one line and the audience laughed. I was hooked.
If that weren’t enough motivation for me, my father is an English professor who would bring home plays for us to read aloud. My mother, my sisters, and I would divide the parts and we’d talk about it after. We’d read Eugene O’Neill, Shakespeare, Neil Simon, any author he was doing a unit on at the time.
My mother is a psychologist who would talk to me about people and human behavior and thought. I never had a chance: I was always going to be an actor. So for as long as I still have all my hair and teeth, I’ll be on stage somewhere many years from now telling stories and, hopefully telling them well.”
While Goldstein’s little three-year-old self couldn’t have foretold that he would be playing incredibly memorable roles in numerous acting projects at age 30, empirical evidence suggests he has been honing his skills for ever more significant performances.
‘Henry V’ may be Rafael Goldstein’s star vehicle but it’s only the beginning of his journey. His career’s ascent may not be akin to a fast, furious, and ferocious evening of ‘Henry V’ on stage but it will be steady, strong, and superlative. And that would be a far more thrilling ride.