Henry IV, Part One

Ashland, Oregon
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Henry IV, Part I with Daniel Molina

Henry IV, Part I :: photo by OSF

Henry IV, Part I
by William Shakespeare

Writing about a performance you saw two months ago gives the “review” a different perspective. I have been slammed and until now unable to spend an hour or so detailing my thoughts of the plays I saw opening weekend. So now I remember only the more important parts of the time I spent in the theater. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will result in shorter and snappier commentary!

What I don’t clearly remember about Henry IV, I is why I didn’t leave the Thomas Theater a raving fan of the production. I recall that it was a very, very good, solid, and credible experience. But, I didn’t feel I’d experienced a revelation.

Now when I tell others about the evening, I am all praises. Strange?

Daniel Molina (Prince Hal) feels like a genuine rebellious, thoughtless young adult who realistically grows to understand his responsibilities… while at the same time being still willing to shirk his duties late in the play. Molina is more subtle and naturally slackerly than other Prince Hal’s I’ve seen.  His Hal is a fit for 2017.

The East Cheap scenes work as real-life happenings and not just as the mandatory comic relief that Shakespeare writes in to amuse us stinkards in the pit. Hal’s playmates are are as genuine-feeling as he is in their self-centered hedonism.

G. Valmont Thomas (Falstaff) is both physical and intricate — a really good job.  Michele Mais (Mistress Quickly) is a happy, slutty force of nature, and the other slum dwellers feel like real pranksters gone bad.

I will complain about the blocking in bar scenes. My seat in the corner of first row and a few other seats around the house were too close to the action. The actors would have been fine sitting and drinking where they were, if I hadn’t needed to put my legs somewhere. And, I don’t mean I wanted to stretch my legs out, I just needed to put them on the floor in front of me. As it was, I turned sideways to avoid disaster.  I saw the opening show, and I don’t know if the space is still a problem. But, I spent way too much time worrying about whether the scenery was going to roll over my foot or whether I was going to trip a passing actor.

But, back to the good stuff.  Jeff King was superb as Henry IV. His simultaneous struggle with — and belief in — Prince Hal were transparent and logical. I felt like I was watching a family and not an important Shakespeare history play. King felt consistent, realistic, and every bit the man who righteously deposed Richard II in the prior chapter of the saga.

I also liked the treatment of the gender-blind casting. I appreciated the switch in nouns when women were cast in key roles. Talking about “your aunt” instead of “uncle” and using “her” instead of “him” just seemed more natural and required one less bit of identification and translation for the audience.

The overall set design was clean and spacious (even if a bit too roomy for the actors and cramped for me). I liked how the action centered in different areas and moved around the room.  Costumes, lighting, and other crafts were all good.

Talking about the play now, applauding so many of the pieces, I realize that all the components are excellent. Still, there is no spark that takes you completely out of the moment and shows you something you never realized before.

Maybe at three hours it needed tightening for our Twitter-addicted brains. A few less lines about the battles and bloodlines, maybe snappier delivery, or something.

As it is, Henry IV, Part I is definitely quality and credible. Worth seeing.

Still it’s only  Ozdachs Rating: 4 Syntaxes out of 5.

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