In Garden Grove, ‘Henry IV’ lands striking blow for the Bard’s skills
Shakespeare’s historical plays are among the most intricate literary accounts of Anglo-Saxon’s royal houses, and when done well, can be tremendously thrilling and satisfying – especially the tetralogy known as “the Henriad”: “Richard II,” “Henry IV” (both parts) and “Henry V.”
“Done well” is, of course, the operative phrase, and after seeing Shakespeare Orange County’s “Henry IV, Part 1” (in a brief run that closes Aug. 26), you’d be hard-pressed to name a better local stage production of this drama going back as far as you like.
Director Gavin Cameron-Webb has executed the two elements most crucial to bringing “Henry” to full and glorious life: The key roles are ideally cast, with fine performances filling in around them; and the most prolix scenes have been tightened and condensed.
Shakespeare’s account of the internecine warfare riddling the reign of Henry Bolingbroke, King Henry IV, teems with the various factions and individuals either aligning or opposing the king.
From the raft of characters, four outsize, larger-than-life portraits emerge: the king, played by John Shouse; Henry’s son Henry, Prince of Wales, known as “Prince Hal” (Robert Tendy); Harry Percy (Michael Chenefelt), bent on defeating the king and known as “Hotspur” for his quick temper; and Hal’s drinking buddy, the rascally Sir John Falstaff (Bodie Newcomb).
Former allies of King Henry, the Percy family now amass against him, fueled by support, and armies, from Scottish rebel leader the Earl of Douglas (Brock Milhorn) and Welsh rebellion leader Owen Glendower (John Breen).
A key scene, and a turning point in the exciting story, caps the first act, as the King finds son Hal at his favorite tavern, asleep and hungover from a night of revelry with Falstaff. Shouse’s Henry delivers a sharp, withering rebuke of his eldest son – and to his surprise, Hal stands up to him and fervently vows to redeem himself.
Tendy brings so much conviction to this focal scene that Shouse’s King Henry is forced to reevaluate Hal, placing stock in his son’s oath. And true to his word, Hal confronts Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Their thrilling swordplay is among the most memorable images, Hotspur’s punching and biting revealing his penchant for hitting below the belt.
Tall and slim, with a shock of white hair, care and age lining his weathered face, Shouse is a potent King Henry, his severe mien and noble look and bearing bringing to mind the great Paul Scofield.
Tendy’s Prince Hal grows in stature before our very eyes. At first happy-go-lucky, he shows no hint of Hal’s potential valor or valiance. By Act 2, he’s well-groomed and in formal attire, complete with sword. True, he’s still glib – but now infused with a deadly earnest.
With a fiery shine in his eyes and florid, lily-gilding diction, Newcomb provides a showy turn as the roguish Falstaff, an outrageous rascal utterly likable, even lovable, for his honesty about his peccadilloes.
Hal and Falstaff’s pranks and role-playing, Falstaff’s boasts and Hal’s debunking of them, and the duo’s warm physical embraces, all accurately connote their mutual admiration.
The charismatic Chenefelt fully delivers the rash Hotspur’s hotheaded temperament and choleric nature. Paul Burt is a dynamic, smooth Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, Hotspur’s cool-headed uncle. In her few brief scenes, Alexandra Wright’s Lady Percy forges a convincing emotional connection with husband Hotspur.
Milhorn and Breen deliver Douglas and Glendower’s colorful look and style as well as the physical and civil threat both men pose to the crown, with Milhorn’s Douglas notably rageful, and Colin Martin is solid and forthright as Henry loyalist Sir Walter Blount.
Breen and Milhorn’s heavy brogues add spice to their roles, though why they’d lean toward Scottish is a puzzler, given that Welsh is more Germanic than Gaelic. Also for better or worse, Falstaff and his gang of rogues and thieves come off like the Droogs in “A Clockwork Orange,” roaming the British countryside in search of victims to attack and rob.
Adding realism, Cameron-Webb includes a brief conversation in Welsh between Lord Mortimer (Nate Ruleaux) and his wife (Anisha Jagganathan), concluded when Lady Mortimer sings a Welsh song. On the lighter side, laughs greet Bardolph’s (Genevieve Flati) uses an “Avenue Q”-like hand puppet to ridicule Falstaff, including the meta-theatrical moment where she rewords lines from “Romeo and Juliet.”
Sean McMullen’s costume design fixes the era in the 1920s and early ’30s, ranging from the muted tones of the royals to the more Elizabethan-style attire of the tavern dwellers; the battle scenes are marked by the bright reds and blues of the opposing sides.
Dominating Dipak Gupta’s scenic design is an all-purpose flat depicting the play’s universe: the island of what is now the United Kingdom amid a sea of blue, a crown floating above it and, to the sides, the Scottish lion, the Welsh dragon and the heraldic shields of the principal characters.
The look of the climactic battle scenes is impressive, boosted by Cameron-Webb’s inventive sound design, Gupta’s lighting, McMullen’s costumes, David Scaglione’s props, and the cast’s superb swordplay.
On the downside, various characters’ 21st-century handshakes and fist bumps are a terrible idea, gross anachronisms that have no place in such a magnificent setting. Ditto the contemporary music used during scene changes.
As much of an anomaly is the sight of early 20th-century men wielding swords instead of firearms.
Otherwise, SOC’s “Henry IV, Part 1” is good enough to rival the outstanding 2012 PBS film “The Hollow Crown,” which elongates the play to the length of a series. Take a visit to Garden Grove and enjoy the chance to see a slice of British history for yourself.
‘Henry IV, Part 1’
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Aug. 26
Where: Garden Grove Amphitheater, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove
Length: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Suitability: All ages
Information.: 714-590-1575, shakespeareoc.org
Powered by WPeMatico