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Henry IV, Part One

Rebellion lay in his way and he found it.— Falstaff

Shakespeare's Henry !V, Part One, a historical action play crammed with family values, unsuitable friends and outsize humor, gets the production it deserves at tiny Theatre Banshee in Burbank. Since they specialize in Irish theatre, it's provocative to see them hop over the pond to embrace this English history play that includes a Welsh leader reputed to be a magician. Especially amazing are the dazzling battle scenes they're able to mount on their small stage, thanks to Fight Choreographer Brian Danner.

Based on 15th century civil wars, the conflict follows the deposition of King Richard II by Henry IV. Rebel nobles, headed by Harry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland, contest Henry's leadership. Even as he plans to quell the rebellion, Henry wishes his own son, the Prince of Wales, also called Harry or Hal, had more of Hotspur's iron and less of the love of pranks and carousing that make him vulnerable to the approbation of the fat and fascinating Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff is one of the great Shakespearean characters, so popular that Shakespeare had trouble killing him off. Queen Elizabeth I demanded a special comedy written just for Falstaff which resulted in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Laurence Olivier inserted his deathbed scene into Henry V. In Henry IV, Part One Shakespeare has written some roundly comic scenes for him that are as leavening as the clown scenes in the comedies.

The theatre has helpfully provided a scene synopsis for those bewildered by the many characters and the appropriately fast pace of Shakespeare's language but it's not needed to follow the story and appreciate some of Shakespeares's best and most poetic writing. Director Sean Branney keeps the articulation clear and also keeps the focus on the relationships between Hal and his two fathers, the King with his standards of duty and honor, and Falstaff, with his world of warmth and fun. The conflict between the two Harrys, Hal and Hotspur, is also clearly drawn.

The excellent cast is headed by Barry Lynch, who was born to play Falstaff; Seth Compton as a youthful conflicted Prince Hal; Josh Thoemke who has the difficult task of playing the persistently fiery Hotspur and is still searching for ways to find nuances in the character; Matt Foyer as Hotspur's uncle Worcester, whose suave treachery born of fear is low-key and penetrating; Andrew Leman, every inch the King; Dan Harper, as the fierce Douglas; John McKenna as Owen Glendower, projects the Welsh leader's aura of self-satisfied mysticism.

The women's roles are small but well defined by Josie DiVincenzo as Mistress Quickly, Robyn Heller who sings a charming Welsh song as Lady Mortimer, and Fleur Phillips, more than a match for Hotspur as his wife, Lady Percy, a relationship we'd love to see more of.

Arthur MacBride's versatile scenic design is centered by Dutch Neusmyth's design of an imposing throne for the court scenes which is reversed into a bar for the Boar's Head Tavern. Mary O'Sullivan's lighting design ranges subtly from court to night; she also doubles as a delightful Bardolph. If you're lucky, you may hit the Banshee on a night when the performance is followed by a reception, featuring the Irish music of the wonderful band Slugger O'Toole to which some of the cast belong.

For links to other productions of this and other Shakespeare plays we've reviewed, see our Shakespeare Quotation & Links Page

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Sean Branney
Cast: Andrew Leman (King Henry IV), Phillip C. Carey (Westmoreland), David Combs (Blunt), Jason Ball (Lancaster), Seth Compton (Prince Hal), Barry Lynch (Falstaff), Jason Tendell (Poins/Sir Michael), Matt Foyer (Worcester), Josh Thoemke (Hotspur), David Mersault (Northumberland./Archbishop), Dan Conroy (Gadshill/Vernon), Mary O'Sullivan (Bardolph), Douglas Clayton (Mortimer/Traveler), Robyn Heller (Lady Mortimer/Servant), Fleur Phillips (Lady Percy), Josie DiVincenzo (Mistress Quickly/Messenger), Dan Harper (Douglas/Sheriff), John McKenna (Glendower)
Set Design: Arthur MacBride
Throne Design & Construction: Dutch Neusmyth
Costume Design: Laura Brody
Lighting Design: Mary O'Sullivan
Fight Choreographer: Brian Danner
Composer: Troy Sterling Nies
Technical Director/Fight Captain: Dan Conroy
Makeup Designer: Andra Carlson
Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes, one intermission
Running Dates: February 23-April 15, 2007
Where: Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, (818) 846-5323
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on March 24.
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