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Henry IV, Part 2

While we're all familiar with the unadorned staging and costumes employed during the earliest public performances of the Shakespearean canon, it's rare that we get to see productions rehearsed according to "original practices." Yes, there is still some debate over what these practices were, not the least of which is how the practices changed between the time when the plays were first performed at court and when they were first performed in public. Regardless, actors rehearsing with a stage manager (without a director) for just a few days using cue sheets (containing only that actor's lines preceded by a cue line from the previous actor) falls somewhere between a fancy staged reading and a full-blown production. In this case, with many of the actors off book and everyone in self-selected costumes, performing against the backdrop of the set from Henry IV, Part 1, we have an engaging continuation of the saga, including Sir John Falstaff's third and final appearance in the canon. The verisimilatude of original practices is delightfully heightened by the Boulder Renaissance Consort performing period songs, incidental segues, and introductory flourishes.

(Left to right) Sam Gregory as King Henry IV and Benjamin Bonenfant as Prince Hal
(L to R) Sam Gregory as King Henry IV
and Benjamin Bonenfant as Prince Hal
Photo: Patrick Campbell
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
With the Battle of Shrewsbury having concluded Part 1, the playwright chooses to begin Part 2 with an induction—a device he uses on occasion to comment and moralize on, or symbolize, the proceedings. In this case, he discusses rumors, in the general sense as well as the specific, e.g., those that swirled around Britain regarding the outcome of the battle. Given the state of control exerted over most of our sources of information these days, we would do well to take heed of the advice seductively offered here (Brendan MiLove as Rumour), regarding how we are manipulated by rumors.

Despite the losses of the rebels at Shrewsbury, the earl of Northumberland (Bob Buckley), the archbishop of York (Scott Bellot), Lord Mowbray (Rodney Lizcano), and Lord Hastings (Steven Cole Hughes) strategize to re-gather troops and pursue their cause against King Henry IV (Sam Gregory), his sons (Prince Hal [Benjamin Bonenfant], Lord John of Lancaster [Joshua Archer], et al.), and the earls of Warwick (Buckley) and Westmoreland (Vanessa Morosco). But rather than replay the great battle scene of Part 1 with a slightly altered cast, the playwright deftly dramatizes one of the most disingenuous diplomatic maneuvers of all time. If you don't have tickets and have not seen this bait and switch maneuver, or don't remember it, reread Act IV, Scenes 1 and 2.

Michael Winters as Falstaff
Michael Winters as Falstaff
Photo: Patrick Campbell
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Once more, Falstaff (Michael Winters) dominates the through line. Whether extending his credit at Mistress Quickly's inn for drink and for her ladies, picking up extra coinage from gentlemen avoiding conscription, or falsely taking credit for hard won hand-to-hand duels, Winters captures the enormity of the wayward knight's unrepentent prevarications and dishonorable choices, yet somehow manages to leverage Falstaff's comedic largesse to draw sympathy for the fellow. Even Mistress Quickly (a rollicking, big-hearted performance by Tammy L. Meneghini), who appears alongside Falstaff in three plays (all performed by the CSF in repertory this season), can't decide whether to sue him or pursue him.

Strong performances by Bellot, Lizcano, and Hughes, as the rebels, underscore the precarious state of King Henry IV's reign, though Gregory's depiction reveals a monarch who gained power and rules by his wits, backed up by clever and bold nobles (Buckley, Morosco, Bonenfant, and Archer).

Following Falstaff's humorous lead, a number of fine performances from the ensemble—particularly the comedic shenanigans of Geoffrey Kent (Justice Robert Shallow), Sam Sandoe (Bardolph), and Jamie Anne Romero (Doll Tearsheet), as well as the motley crew of Archer, Benaiah Anderson, David Bolus, and Eddy Jordan as Mouldy, Wart, Feeble, and Bullcalf, herded over by the rapscalion, Pistol (Sammie Joe Kinnett)—make Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 one of the most memorable of the history plays.

The playwright's handling of the transition of power from Henry IV to his son, Hal, is both dramatic and sublime, filled with strong argument and emotion, and well played by Gregory and Bonenfant, which sets us up nicely for Henry V (that we assume will be performed next season).

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Henry IV, Part 2 runs in repertory with The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV: Part 1, and I Hate Hamlet through August 3rd. For tickets: 303-492-8008 or http://www.coloradoshakes.org/tickets.

Bob Bows

 

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