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A CurtainUp Review
Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2

Will fortune never come with both hands full?
--- Henry IV on his deathbead
Richard Easton as King Henry IV
Richard Easton as King Henry IV
(Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Director Jack O'Brien, adapter Dakin Matthews and the sensational cast of Henry IV have turned the dying king's above quoted despair on its head. Fortune has indeed come to the Vivian Beaumont stage with both hands filled to the brim with vibrant images, ideas and talent. The almost four hour long evening may seem daunting to theater goers who have embraced the ninety-minute play, but this three-act, two intermission evening is so richly entertaining that its pace fits Shakespeare's phrase from The Winter's Tale "faster than thought."Considering that when presented as two separate plays, Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II (as they recently were by the Stratford Festival in Canada and the Royal Shakespeare Company --our review) the total viewing time is six hours, Mr. Matthews' merger achieves Hamlet's advice about brevity being the soul of wit, not to mention new clarity and fresh focus

If Mr. Matthews' consolidation upsets some Bardian purists, no grumbles were voiced when I attended. In fact, I overheard repeated comments from theater goers who'd seen the the much praised Toronto double header to the effect that this production was every bit as satisfying, if not even more so. Without a doubt, it lays to rest all the talk about Americans being unable to match Shakespeare's countrymen in capturing the soul of his characters and doing justice to his language. In short, whatever is missing (Henry IV, Part II is subject to the most trimming), there isn't a smidgen of downsizing here.

Michael Hayden as Prince Hal
Michael Hayden as Prince Hal
(Photo: Paul Kolnik )
The staging is expansive, with Mr. O'Brien and his gifted designers not only utilizing every inch of the Beaumont stage but making it seem even bigger. The superb performances from the major to the minor players, the director's smart orchestration of the royal court's grandeur, the comedy at Eastchap and the tension of the battlefield all add up to an epic that combines the sweep of history and the intimacy of a family drama.

Though the program helpfully includes a synopsis, even those unfamiliar with the plot will have no problem in following the dual story of a classic father and son conflict and the battle by the reigning royals against the challenge for the crown from a rebel faction. From the moment King Henry IV (Richard Easton) rises from his royal perch we see a man aware that his crown was unjustly gained and thus especially eager to have a worthy successor. Even as he rebukes young Prince Hal (Michael Hayden) for hanging out with the Sir John Falstaff (Kevin Kline) and his motley crew, a father and son reconciliation is inevitable. The fact that the prince seeks out the company of a man as old as his father adds an yet another dimension to his rebellion -- the search not so much of a hell-raising companion as a loving and approving father.

Easton and Hayden don't miss a nuance of their characters' ambiguity about the rights and duties of kingship and their feelings for each other. Hayden poignantly transforms himself from leather jacketed playboy to ermine robed king -- a king who must not only show himself to be his own man rather than his father's son but also publicly disavow his association with Falstaff (If this calls to mind Bush I and Bush II, that's typical of how Shakespeare strikes new chords every decade or so).

Kevin Kline  as Falstaff
Kevin Kline as Falstaff
(Photo: Paul Kolnik )
The king and prince head the play's parade of wonderful characters, but the big draw has always been Falstaff, the ultimate lovable anti-hero and how successfully the actor playing him manages to be a manipulative, dissolute liar who makes us understand why Hal likes him, and arouses our pity when he finally rejects him. If there were a master class in how to portray Shakespeare's complex, comic creation, Kevin Kline could surely serve as a shining example. You will be hard put to recognize the movie star good looks in his red-cheeked, white-bearded, big-bellied Sir John. His jovial Santa Claus exterior exudes selfish bravado. His line delivery is exquisite, as are his comic physical bits of business. When finally brought to his knees his "I shall be sent for" is the ultimate in defiant optimism (This may well be what inspired Margaret Mitchell to leave her Scarlett, just rejected by Rhett Butler, wowing with similar false optimism that he will come back to her). Kline is exactly the Falstaff poet Richard Bausch must have had in mind when he wrote "Ode for falstaff at the end" commissioned for the even more informative than usual Lincoln Center Review:"Oh, give me men, who would teach/ a prince how to be young/&careless, not like a king/in anything--until the load/ofduty rests on the unkind youthful shoulders. . ."

Big (physically and in every other way) and vital as Kline's Falstaff is, he does not make himself the star around whom everything and everyone else turns. Other crucial roles allowed to stand out include: Ethan Hawke and Byron Jennings adding another father-son setup as Henry "Hotspur" Percy and Thomas Percy; Dana Ivey doing double duty as Lady Northumberland and Mistress Quigley; Lorenzo Pisoni as King Henry's son John of Lancaster and Scott Ferrara as Edmund Mortimer. Musical star Audra McDonald brings considerable passion to the relatively minor part of Lady Percy whose defiant "I will not sing " after Anastasia Barzee's beautifully sung lullaby comes across as something of a consciously planted in joke. I could go on, for this is an amply populated stage.

Not the least of the pleasures of this production stem from the inventive stagecraft. When you take your seat you see what looks like a bare stage. The initial glimpse of Ralph Funicello's three-levels of wooden beams promises to put just a little flesh on these seemingly bare bones. But Mr. Funicello is full of highly effective surprises, reconfiguring his set pieces, rolling out a staircase at the top of which sits the throne and props as needed. Two beds -- one for Falstaff's rather ineffectual romp in the hay with Doll Tearsheet (Genevieve Elam as the drolly named Doll doing a great, small turns and one for the king's deathbed scene -- provide director O'Brien with the opportunity for one of his many fine visual statements; in this case, Hal's sitting first on Falstaff's bed, then that of his dying fathers makes its own statement about his shifting allegiance.

The set's adaptability and Brian MacDevitt's masterful lighting fluidly accommodate a variety of locations, including a breathtaking battle scene and the unforgettable split screen image of Hal being crowned at one side of the stage, while the melancholy Falstaff kneels front and center.

Whether at court, in the Eastcheap tavern or on the battlefield, everyone is gorgeously and fittingly attired in Jess Goldstein's costumes. The fabric textures and richness of the palette often make the actors look as if they'd walked out of the framed canvases of the master painting exhibit rooms of the Metropolitan and across town to Lincoln Center.

Kevin Kline will surely be a top contender in the acting category, as will Jack O'Brien for his direction, and the creative team for their major contributions to this play and the art of set, costume and lighting design. While there are no Tonys (or Drama Desk or Outer Critics awards) for dead playwrights, the very much alive Amy Freed's Beard of Avon (Review) is rumored to be transferring from Off to On Broadway, adding a witty spoof about Shakespeare to the Bardian-connected lineup of honorees.

It would be nice if Jack O'Brien's next interlude between blockbuster musicals like Hairspray and his London revival of His Girl Friday would give us his take on Henry V. That's the play in which we find out what kind of a king Hal has become. In the meantime, Lincoln Center is following this triumph with a much anticipated King Lear. .


Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted byDakin Matthews
Directed by Jack O'Brien
Cast (alphabetical: Tyrees Allen (Earl of Westmoreland), Anastasia Barzee (Lady Mortimer), Terry Beaver (Earl of Northumberland),Tom Bloom (Justice Silence), Stevie Ray Dallimore (Lady Mortimer), Stephen DeRosa (Bardolph), Richard Easton (King Henry IV), Genevieve Elam (Doll Tearsheet),Peter Jay Fernandez (Sir Richard Vernon), Scott Ferrara (Edmund Mortimer), Ethan Hawke (Hotspur), Michael Hayden (Hal, Prince of Wales), Byron Jennings (Thomas Percy), Kevin Kline (Sir John Falstaff), Aaron Krohn (Francis), Dakin Matthews (Chief Justice Warwick and Owen Glendower), Dana Ivey (Lady Northumberland and Mistress Quickly), Ty Jones (Nym), David Manis (Pistol), Audra McDonald (Lady Percy), Jed Orleman (Ralph, Davy),Lorenzo Pisoni (John of Lancaster), Steve Rankin (Poins), Jeff Weiss (Justice Shallow), C. J. Wilson (Earl of Douglas). Ensemble: Christine Marie Brown, Albert Jones, Ty Jones, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Corey Stoll, Baylen Thomas, Nance Williamson, Richard Ziman.

Set Design: Ralph Funicello
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Original music and Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Special Effects: Gregory Meeh;
Running Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes, including 2-15 minute intermissions.
Vivian Beaumont Theater 150 W. 65th St. 212/239-6277 or
10/30/03 to 1/11/04; opening 11/20/03--extended to 1/18/03
Tues through Sat @ 7:00PM, Sun @ 2:00PM $85.00, $60.00
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 22nd press performance

At This Theater Cover

Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

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