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Henry IV Part I
There's of course good reason for this production to be on the long side. Its four dramatic worlds — the court, the tavern world, the rebel faction, and Wales — this sophisticated play has tremendous range and scope. No doubt McCallum wanted to put his directorial imprint on each of these worlds knowing that to neglect one might well throw the others out of whack. Still, when the woman in the orchestra seat sitting directly behind me said more than once during the evening, "I have no idea what they are saying," I sensed that she may well have been speaking for others in the audience. In fact, the dense language and whirling action can easily invoke a kind of temporary vertigo unless one has just read (or re-read) the text.
Yes, McCallum has a responsibility to deliver the Shakespearean goods without diluting them. But in this traditional rendering he might have forgotten that adding some contemporary twists, satire or topical allusions can go a long way to make it all easier and more enjoyable to watch. In short, this play could still hold its chin up even if it took an occasional detour from the hallowed text.
The acting is up and down. The two stand-out performances are John Brummer as Hal and Dan Daily as Falstaff. Brummer confidently inhabits the multiple dimensions of his character who gradually evolves before our eyes from sometime bar fly and robber, to pragmatic realist, to hero Prince and redeemed son. Daily is equally top-notch as the witty and dissolute Falstaff. He looks the part of Falstaff but doesn't stop at evoking his character's physical features. He is i touch with the idea that the knight is not to be interpreted as, to borrow a phrase from renowned scholar Marjorie Garber, a "misunderstood roly-poly Everyman." Falstaff is Lord of Misrule, and Daily informs his performance with that topsy-turvy reality.
Less effective is Bradford Cover's Henry. Cover doesn't convey sufficiently the guilt weighing down the once-popular Bolingbroke, who is precipitously falling out of favor with the politicos of the fifteenth century and now fears for his life and passing on his crown to a wanton son. Sean McNall, a Pearl ensemble veteran who gave us Richard II last season, is miscast as the rebel Northumberland. McNall normally dominates the stage but misses the mark with this supporting role, admirably affecting a Welsh accent but not capable of sustaining it throughout the long evening.
Another miscasting is Shawn Fagan, as the fiery Hotspur. Fagan needs to add a dash of pure madness to his noble but deluded character. For Hotspur to come alive on stage, he must come across like a Marlovian character, a victim of excess, and one whose words never ever come trippingly off the tongue.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, this production has some fine moments, though most of the credit belongs to the creative team. Daniel Zimmerman's sturdy traditional set dramatically serves each unfolding scene? Whitney Locher's period costumes are persuasive without being overpowering. Michael Chybowski's lighting alternately reflects the comic, historic and romantic strands interwoven into Shakespeare's profound history play.
This marks the second installation of the Pearl's plan to mount the Henriad, which is Shakespeare's cycle of history plays that the company kicked off last year with their production of Richard II. The company plans to complete the cycle next year with Henry V. There's even some buzz about a staged reading of Henry IV Part II this season, and time will tell if this comes to pass.
Though this is a lukewarm Henry IV Part I, it clearly celebrates the Pearl's new digs on 42nd Street and uses their expansive performing space to fine advantage. If McCallum fails to draw everybody in with his mounting , it is still a pointer to the company's future and perhaps a more rousingly patriotic Henry V next season.
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