Monday, May 1, 2017

Margin Notes: Henry IV

Marie Claire Roussel and Isaac Miller, as Hal and Hotspur.
Photo by Kevin Johnsrud.
Henry IV

Seen on: Saturday, 4/29/17.
My grade: A-/B+

Plot and Background
King Henry IV's reign is not a peaceful one. He is plagued not only with guilt over how he seized the throne from Richard II, but also the rising rebellion from his former allies, Mortimer and the Percy family, to say nothing of the negligent attention from his daughter, Hal, who would rather spend time in the tavern with the drunken Sir John Falstaff and a host of unworthies. These disparate elements come to a head when Harry (Hal) must face Harry (Hotspur) and decide the future of the realm. Henry IV is presented by Hamlet Isn't Dead, a New York-based theater company dedicated to presenting Shakespeare's works in chronological order.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen Henry IV, parts one and two, multiple times (both as combined and separate plays) and am by now quite familiar with the playful stylings of Hamlet Isn't Dead.


Play: Once again, the HID crew delivers a swift and spirited jog down old Shakespeare Lane with its two-hour condensation of Henry IV, parts one and two. Whereas their Merchant gave us a bit of a folk vibe with their onstage band, HID's Henry IV is firmly ensconced in rock, with a Led Zeppelin poster prominently displayed, and actors wearing t-shirts for bands like The Rolling Stones and Blondie, accessorized with leather jackets and torn jeans. The story moves efficiently from scene to scene under director Megan Mahaffey's confident hand, and Gregory Pragel's fight choreography is athletic and takes strategic advantage of the intimate performance space. If I have any stipulations with this production, it is with some of the cutting of the text, and the residual side effects those cuts have on the narrative. Never before in this play have I felt that the political machinations, the actual battle, to be so distinctly the MacGuffin to the story being told. This is not necessarily bad - relationships, particularly between Hal and her titular father, and between Hal and Falstaff (and crew), are strong and clear. Less clear is the nature and cause of the rebellion by Mortimer and the Percys and, unfortunately, Hal's arc from derelict prankster to a king worthy of the crown. On the other hand, some cuts are tremendously satisfying - while typical productions of Henry IV give too free a rein to Falstaff and the clowns, leading me to grow weary of them, this cutting still manages to give us the full flavor of Falstaff and his sodden charisma - and more importantly, his appeal to Hal - without wearing out his welcome or taking over the play. This production is ultimately a fun and energetic production of a somewhat flawed cutting.

Cast: There's not a bad apple in this cast, from the merry band of Linus Ingatius, Derek Spaldo, and Joshua Mahaffey (who triple as the music, a Greek Chorus to the action, and the roles of Bardolph, Mortimer, and Lord Chief Justice, respectively); to Leon Axt's stoic Northumberland and Isaac Miller as his wrathful son Hotspur; to Brooke Reynolds's double duty as the simpering but sharp-tongued Mistress Quickly and as the sweet-voiced Lady Mortimer; to Marie Claire Roussel's fierce and fiery turn as Prince Hal. And special notice must be paid to Kevin Percival's Sir John Falstaff, a staggering and unapologetic sot, as charming as he is entirely inappropriate company for the future king of England. His scenes are a true delight, both at his most bombastic, and when he lets his vulnerability peek through, wondering, under the guise of bluster, whether Hal will recognize him once she takes the throne.


Running: Now playing at Westbeth Artist Community (Hamlet Isn't Dead) - Opening: April 28, 2017. Closing: May 7, 2017.
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 10 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Megan Mahaffey Assistant Director: Amelia Cain
Fight Choreographer: Gregory Pragel
Cast: Leon Axt, Meghan Bernstein, Linus Ignatius, Michael Luca, Josh Mahaffey, Isaac Miller, Kevin Percival, Brooke Reynolds, Maddison Ridley, Marie-Claire Roussel, Anthony Simone, Derek Spaldo, James Swanson.

Kevin Percival as Sir John Falstaff. Photo by Kevin Johnsrud.

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