MADISON, NJ –Both battles and buffoonery make for a stirring combination in William Shakespeare’s history play, “Henry IV, Part I.”
The play begins with King Henry discussing pending conflicts with the Scots and Northumberland, which will climax in the Battle of Shrewsbury, and wondering where his hapless son, Hal, has gone to. Of course Hal is hanging out with Falstaff and others at the local tavern. Still, there’s a certain regal grace that ultimately helps Hal realize he has a responsibility to the throne.
The rowdy atmosphere at the inn is largely due to the presence of John Falstaff, played with rip-roaring fun by John Ahlin. Derek Wilson’s Prince Hal counter acts him perfectly as they spar and tease at the Boar’s Head Tavern. The playfulness is contagious as they egg each other on.
Joe Discher has directed this production with tremendous verve and energy. With 22 seasons at The Shakespeare Theatre, he has directed “Arms and the Man,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Amadeus” sand a host of other classic works. His production of “Romeo and Juliet” will be presented in Milan at Teatro Franco Parenti.
There’s never a dull moment, with Henry Percy, know as Hotspur, played by Jon Barker. He is building his own force to overthrow the English throne. King Henry IV is played by Brent Harris, who appeared so memorably last year as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (That production was also directed by Discher.) Henry opens the play and sets the stage for the conflict to come.
These are the leading lights, but there is plenty of excellent support from a well rounded cast. Izzie Steele is Lady Percy and Megan Sass plays Lady Mortimer. Her Gaelic song to Douglas West as Mortimer is especially moving. John Little is Earl of Westmoreland and Cliff Miller is Lord John of Lancaster.
This series of Shakespeare’s history plays begins with Richard II, when Henry Bolingbroke usurps the British throne. That is followed by Henry IV, Parts One and Two, and finally Henry V, when Hal ascends to the throne and wins victory over France.
Jonathan Wentz’s set design is a striking combination of soaring arches, dark wood, stone alcoves and stairs that serve as a focal point. Somewhat reminiscent of a Globe Theatre setting, the design serves as a variety of places without detracting from the action. Costumes by Paul H. Canada convey the regal/warrior period of the Middle Ages. Matthew E. Adelson’s lighting design is especially effective towards the end of Act II, when battle wages at daybreak. Michael Rossmy is fight director and those scenes are carefully choreographed and loaded with action.