C. Stanley Photography

1 Henry IV

Reviewer's Rating

As the heir apparent to a family business or the future ruler of a country, it’s easy to spot both of these circumstances having something in common; living up to a parent’s sometimes unrealistic expectations. Parental beliefs and guidance cannot only be daunting in the family pecking order, but impossible to navigate. For the anointed gold child, they are compelled to dodge a field of superficial landmines that demand acts of discipline in public, presenting a clean and professional appearance, and the final piece of this heir trifecta, making sure they associate and befriend the right people to further their position and not bring shame on themselves or their family.

The Folgers Theatre’s season opening of William Shakespeare’s much-loved historical drama Henry IV Part 1, shows just how expectations of a father that are both political and personal, are deeply intertwined when teaching the next generation to face their destiny. Needless to say, it can be a truly messy business under any circumstances. For King Henry IV and the leadership lessons placed on his son Prince Hal, the path Hal has chosen to find these answers may not be what his father envisions, but in the end will lead him to the correct outcome as the true and honorable leader his father hopes he will aspire to.

Henry IV Part 1 is both a cautionary and redemptive coming of age story of young prince trying to find his own place in a world, while dealing with the dark forces surrounding his family to seek revenge or gain personal favor. These lessons are done with finesse by Shakespeare’s use of the Worcester family politically plotting against the King and his son to take over the throne for themselves, and the comedy infusion that introduces us to one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most beloved characters, Sir John Falstaff. Where Falstaff and his band of criminals and low-life commoners, are the total opposite in both character, opinions and discipline of King Henry, Prince Hal sees Falstaff as the fatherly figure and the close knit family he craves; people who are proud and accepting of who he is and what he can accomplish in his own right.

Director Rosa Joshi in her directorial debut with the Folger provides and interesting production that unfortunately comes off a bit dull and over-produced at times. Though enjoyable, there were moments that performers were hard to hear, as well as some missed directing opportunities in using the great thespian skills of Kate Eastwood Norris as Mistress Quickly and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Blunt/Mortimer to their fullest abilities. The performance by multi-awarded Helen Hayes Award winner Edward Gero as Falstaff is as always magical to watch, as he pulls in the audience to the great wonder and humor of the bigger than life Falstaff. Played in tandem with newcomer Avery Whitted as Price Hal, Gero is a master with the poetry of Shakespeare’s words and sentiment and the emotional turmoil Falstaff finds himself in as a “friend” seeking favor with the future king.

The costume designs of Kathleen Geldard and scenic designs by Sara Ryung Clement work well together, giving a simple style that plays on the dark hues of gray, blue, brown and black that convey a stripped down feeling of something or someone lurking in the shadows. It is when there are pops of color, especially the bright neon ‘disco-like’ lighting for Falstaff and his band’s home base of the Boar’s Head Tavern, that signals the audience there is more going on here and it’s time to focus.

Henry IV Part 1 is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays and having seen it numerous times, this particular performance, though well executed, at times lacked focus. This could be for a number of reasons, but in the end, as one of the great historical dramas, it deserved more attention in making sure the visual presentation played more alongside the dialogue to keep the audience involved. Overall, this performance was enjoyable, and if you hasn’t seen this particular play performed, it does offer a great introduction into the world of Shakespeare.