Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Monday, July 16, 2007

Times-Dispatch Review of "Henry IV, Part 1"

Link to the review.

The text:

City Production of Henry IV, Part 1 Is an Ambitious Success


Young Prince Hal may be lacking in ambition, but Richmond Shakespeare Festival surely is not.

Having put off the staging of the Bard's history plays, Richmond Shakespeare now plans to mount the whole canon in the coming years. Difficult for audiences who are not familiar with the arcana of Plantagenets and the like, the histories nonetheless are loaded with pleasures for all who love theater.

This first part of "Henry IV" features a familiar figure -- the wastrel son of a powerful man. King Henry has seized power in England but is embattled on many fronts, and it doesn't look as if he's going to get much help from his son Hal.

We meet Hal as he's wenching in a tavern, attended by his instructor in debauchery, Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is that great Shakespearean character that goes well beyond comic relief -- he's a lovable rogue and a feast for an actor. And in this production, the terrific Daryl Clark Phillips eats up the role with Falstaffian gusto. As good as most of the other actors are, we long for Clark when he is absent and are as delighted as Falstaff's own pals are when he appears again.

Hal's conceit is that his low habits are beneficial in that they'll provide extra contrast once he reforms and takes his rightful place as son and heir, but we're meant to doubt this. Fortunate, then, that the intense Phil Brown makes this eventual transformation absolutely believable -- we see the sudden evolution of Hal from callowness to nobility. Brown gives a delicious performance: sexy, funny, and heroic.

And that's not the last of the acting delights to savor here. James Ricks does a powerful take on Hotspur, the challenger to Henry's throne who's so noble and valiant that Henry openly longs that Hotspur and Hal had been switched at birth. Ricks' performance seems oddly modern, perhaps due in part to his relentlessly American accent in the face of the English accents around him.

And then there is Grant Mudge, playing the rogue Ned Poins as well as Owen Glendower, the Welsh magician, and the Scottish warrior Douglas, with enough of a burr to power two productions of "Macbeth."

Jack Parrish is both regal and thoroughly human as the king, anguished over his rebellious son as much as over the rebellious factions facing him. Jacqueline O'Connor's jocular turn as Mistress Quickly, the tavern owner, is well balanced by her strong cross-gendered Captain Blunt, and Robert Nelson, John Witkiewicz and Brian Vrtis are excellent in various secondary roles.

James Alexander Bond, as Master of Play, keeps the emotional pitch and the pacing ideal, but fight director Drew Vidal's battle scenes are not fast-paced enough to thrill. Joanne Zipay's work as Master of Verse is obvious in the finely tuned diction and the beautiful rhythms of the poetry, which make the language shine throughout.

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  • At 7/16/2007 2:49 PM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    I think it is quite funny that our Canadian actor gets a comment about his accent being too AMERICAN! James is friggin fabulous in the show. And quite frankly I think his "modern" style is what makes it easy to follow…breathing new life into the words. Of course I have no idea what I’m talking about being new to this world. But what I DO know for sure is that I understood everything James was saying, his intentions and his characters arch from DAY ONE of rehearsal. Isn’t that the goal…making Shakespeare understood to a modern audience? Isn’t that what everyone complains about? And James is doing it without falling into the trap of big unnecessary hand gestures in order to explain the language that I have seen done so often here in Richmond. He is just telling the story…and in my opinion he is telling the story beautifully.

  • At 7/16/2007 10:15 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I think you make a great point Jacquie about "telling the story", and that's what I love most about Richmond Shakespeare's approach. Rather than try to set a story in a time and place so far removed from our own that NO one can relate to it (as many companies do with Shakespeare, making it EVER so boring), RST tries to relate the story to our lives TODAY, even if the language and setting may be somewhat unfamiliar. The THEMES are VERY familiar, and THAT is why we should appreciate Shakespeare: Love, lust, envy, compassion, kindness, ambition, aggression, loss, you name it...the gamut of human emotions and experience told in these beautiful verses and prose.

    Congratulations to your entire cast on such wonderful buzz about "Henry", I'm VERY much looking forward to seeing it soon as I can!


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