Theater Review: ‘Henry IV, Part 1’ essential, great at Pa. Shakespeare Festival
They do Shakespeare the old-fashioned way in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of “Henry IV, Part 1,” through Aug. 4, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley.
It’s old-fashioned as in some 420-years old-fashioned when The King’s Men staged William Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe Theatre, London, England, sans director and sans costume, scenic and lighting designers. The PSF production follows such so-called “original practices.”
It’s not sans words, which in PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1” ring forth even more abundantly clearly on a nearly bare stage with actors in costumes evoking what might have been worn in 1402 and 1403 when the play’s story takes place.
If “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” as Jaques says in Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It,” then you certainly need players.
PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1” has great players. It’s one of the most satisfying productions of Shakespeare ever at PSF. It’s essential for the Shakespeare aficionado and student of The Bard. It’s simply great. The July 27 performance was seen for this review.
Ironically, even though it’s not a fully-realized production in terms of theater nomenclature, the PSF production is fully-realized in that the actors take ownership of the production and their roles.
They’ve made directorial choices in stage-blocking, movement and sound. The beating of a drum is the unplugged sound design.
The actors talk to each other, they see each other. are completely committed to the text and fully involved in the moment of performance. The performances crackle.
PSF’s production does the old switcheroo with one of the “original practices” of Shakespeare’s King’s Men, whereby all roles, including female roles, were performed by males. In PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1,” the lead male roles of Hotspur and Prince Hal are played by females, Kathryn Tkel and Mairin Lee, respectively.
Hotspur, aka Harry Percy, is a rival to succeed King Henry IV (John Keabler, played steadfastly and earnestly).
Prince Hal, aka Henry, Prince of Wales, has been lollygagging with Falstaff (John Ahlin) and drunkards, tramps and thieves down at the Boar’s Head Inn, hosted with imperial grace by Mistress Quickly (the always wonderful Jane Ridley).
Hotspur has a burr in his saddle for Hal and forms an alliance with Worcester, aka Thomas, Earl of Percy (Anthony Lawton, fulminating and strident despite a limp and a cane) and Douglas, aka Archibald, Earl of Douglas (Christopher Patrick Mullen, rousing mightily to the occasion).
Mairin Lee plays the role of Hal handsomely. She sublimates her femininity to serve the text. In a vibrant and electric performance, Lee transitions from playboy Hal to soldier Hal, reflected in her reflection held with steady gaze as the lights fade on act one.
Kathryn Tkel is a jittery presence, as bespeaks the very name of the role she plays, that of Hotspur. She’s emotional and reactive: a soldier of misfortune.
When Hal and Hotspur take up arms against each other, the clanging danger is palpable. Lee and Tkel, as well as other actors in swordplay scenes, apparently were their own fight choreographers, and the results are impressive and believably intense and scary.
John Ahlin, as Sir John Falstaff, presides over the merriment in the tavern and mayhem on the battlefield. Ahlin conveys perfectly the character’s gargantuan charm. Falstaff may be a clown, but he’s not clowning around in the memorable “Honor” speech, which resonates with truth. The speech is trenchant. Ahlin’s performance is captivating.
Brad DePlanche is no bore as Bardolph at the Boar’s Head. He’s hilarious.
Other actors of note: Brandon J. Pierce (Blunt-Sheriff), Mackenzie Moyer (Lancaster), Angela LaRose (Lady Percy), J. Dane McMichael (Poins-Verdon), Iykechi McCoy (Gadshill), Mark Yowakim (Peto) and Kailey Edwards, Megan Fry and Gabe Moses (each in the Ensemble).
The words linger on well after the play is gone, like a song in cabaret from a Broadway show. The Sherlock Holmes’ catchphrase “The game is afoot.” is from “Henry IV, Part 1,” as are ”He will give the devil his due.” and “The better part of valour is discretion.”
The play may be the thing, but in PSF’s “Henry IV, Part 1,” the actors are more than mere players. Kudos to all in this riveting production. Don’t miss it.
Tickets: Labuda Center for the Performing Arts lobby box office, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley; pashakespeare.org/psf_tickets.php; 610-282-WILL (9455)