Times-Dispatch Review of "Henry IV, Part 1"
City Production of Henry IV, Part 1 Is an Ambitious Success
By SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
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.