Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dave T (and Me) on "Henry IV, Part 1"


David Timberline caught the first preview of Henry IV, Part 1, and couldn't wait for next week's publication of his Style review to let people know how much he liked it. Thank God for blogs.

My favorite comment is actually a couple posts down, under the title "Sicko," where he says:



I wrote a pretty peppy little 300-word rave about Henry (which won’t appear in Style until 07/25 – sorry!) but, as I told our friend in the lobby of the Westhampton, what I really wanted to say was, “You know all of those other plays that I said were awesome? Forget all that, this one is REALLY awesome!”



That means a lot more coming from Dave T than it would coming from, say, Daniel Neman.

One of the best details of the two reviews is the one that neither mentions: the fact that the play and intermission run nearly three hours. With a less engaging show that becomes a liability; with this one it's just more awesome to enjoy. This is a very special show going on out there at Agecroft, just a wonderful combination of amazing text, actors, director, and designers. Kudos to Grant Mudge for putting it all together. Every day I work with Grant I have greater respect for just how much work he does and how well he does it.

I agree with Dave: this production is REALLY awesome, perhaps the single best production of Richmond Shakespeare since I've been connected with them. I better like it; I have to watch it from behind my drum twelve more times.

I have a fear, however. I'm terribly afraid that people aren't going to see this show because of two things: 1) Roman numerals in the title, and 2) it's a "History" play. The fact that the Times-Dispatch ran its review in Monday's "Metro & State" section under the title "A History Lesson That Entertains: City Production of Henry IV, Part 1 Is an Ambitious Success" is not helping. That's right, nothing brings the kiddies out to see a play more than calling it a "history lesson." (Also, what the heck does "City Production" mean, and why is that necessary to put in the title? It makes it look like a production directed by Doug Wilder and starring Manoli Loupassi.)

So let me go on the record here as saying this: the second quartet of history plays that Shakespeare wrote, Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V are my absolute favorite Shakespeare plays. The late Dr. James Parker, head of graduate studies at Theatre VCU, once said that you don't really get Shakespeare until you appreciate the sublime beauty of Richard II. Patrick Stewart, noted Shakespearean actor and Starfleet captain, is on record as saying that his favorite play is Henry IV, Part 2.

It just doesn't get better than these plays. And that's not because I have any great love for English history, it's because everything great about Shakespeare is in these four plays in massive amounts. With the exception of the stately and foreboding Richard II, they're loaded with comedy; Falstaff may be the single funniest and most clever character in the canon (with apologies to Mercutio). Prince Hal, later King Henry V, has three full plays to develop his character, easily Shakespeare's most heroic, multifaceted and fascinating. From the moment Henry Bolingbroke arrives at Ravenspurgh, it's non-stop war and action, first civil war on the island and later war with the French. There's romance, drunken comedy, action, honor, victory and defeat, and the fact that the major characters and events are based in history makes it more engaging, not less.

So as we embark on this ridiculously ambitious project of putting the entire History cycle on our stages, it's very important that we artists, audience, writers, and editors remember that they are History plays, not the History Channel.

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1 Comments:

  • At 7/19/2007 11:33 AM , Anonymous terry dolson said...

    Andrew--
    so glad to come upon your blog! I wanted to see what folks were saying about Henry4-1,and I am glad to see that they loved it as much as we did. I believe you may even have converted me to the history plays. I gotta agree with Scott W.--I'd pretty much crawl across the desert to see Phil Brown continuing as Hal ; )
    And you and your music--brilliant and perfect as always.
    td

     

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