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Posts Tagged ‘henry iv parts 1 and 2’

Henry IV
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Ocel
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
May 17, 2014

Jim Butz Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Jim Butz
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has pulled out all the stops this year. In an ambitious new move, SFSTL has decided to present two plays this year in Forest Park instead of one, as they have every previous year. Technically speaking, it’s actually three plays, presented as two productions. While Henry V is due to open next week in Shakespeare Glen, this week marks the premiere of a condensed version of Henry IV parts 1 and 2, adapted by director Tim Ocel into a single presentation that tells its story very well.  Majoring on the story of Prince Hal (Jim Butz) and his journey from profligate prince to responsible King, this production takes a story out of history and instills it with a sense of immediacy and humanity.

Based in history and immortalized in Shakespeare’s legendary dramatization, Henry IV tells the story of the titular King (Michael James Read) and his rocky relationship with his son Hal as well as his struggle to retain his throne against a challenge led by Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Charles Pasternak), the son of the King’s former ally, the Earl of Northumberland (Joneal Joplin).  While Hotspur shows ambition and drive, King Henry laments that his own son spends much of his time carousing in taverns with the vainglorious and irresponsible Sir John Falstaff (Tony DeBruno) and his rowdy gang of ruffians.  Although the play is named after the King, the real central figure in this presentation is Prince Hal, as he faces the choice between remaining in his partying ways or taking up the responsibility as heir to the throne and joining with his father in defending against Hotspur’s rebellion.

Casting must have been a challenge in this production, since many of the actors take multiple roles, often with great contrast. Jerry Vogel, for instance, is nearly unrecognizable between his two excellent portrayals of the King’s loyal ally, the noble Sir Walter Blunt, and of one of Falstaff’s cronies, the coarse Pistol. Alex Miller, as both the jolly Bardolph and the warlike Earl of Douglas, also does an excellent job of creating two distinct and vivid characters.  Various of the more minor roles are also doubled up, and some performers who have one prominent role also show up occasionally in minor roles, such as Dakota Mackey-McGee, who plays Hotspur’s wife, Kate, and Kelley Weber, who plays Lady Northumberland. Both also appear as nameless women who hang out with Hal and Falstaff in the tavern scenes.  Overall, it’s a very cohesive ensemble with excellent work all around, helping create a mood of warlike seriousness in the battle scenes as well as unrefined jollity in the tavern sequences.

The four key players here do not alternate roles, however, and their casting is impeccable.  Butz, in particular, will play continue to play the same character in the next production, Henry V, as well.  A consummate Shakespearean, Butz has the commendable gift of being able to emphasize the humanity in some of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters, making them instantly relatable.  His Hal is alternately charming, vacillating, confused, sincere, and ultimately resolutely determined.  His command of Shakespeare’s dialogue is strong, and he even manages to vary the pitch of his voice gradually as Hal takes on more responsibility, taking on a richer, more regal tone in later scenes.  Pasternak, as Hal’s rival Hotspur, is a dynamic presence, always moving and full of energy and fiery charisma.  It’s easy to understand why he would be able to lead a rebellion. His climactic duel with Butz’s Hal is a dramatic highlight, as is his earlier scene of belligerent chemistry with Mackey-McGee as his insecure but outspoken wife.  Pasternak is new to St. Louis theatre, and he makes a very strong impression.

As Hal’s competing father figures, Reed and DeBruno are also excellent.  Reed’s Henry is suitably authoritative but also clearly insecure as well, and alternating disappointment and trust of his son are truthfully portrayed, especially in one scene near the end of the production in which Henry’s health is failing and Hal must seriously consider the impending reality of both the loss of his father and the responsibility of the throne.  As Falstaff, DeBruno isn’t quite as bombastic as other actors I’ve seen in the role, although he remains a strong and constant presence, at once endearing, brash and cowardly, as he plots intrigues with his cronies, verbally spars with the determined tavern hostess Mistress Quickly (Kari Ely), or tries to stay out of too much trouble during the inevitable battle. His scenes with Butz are especially brilliant, particularly in the scene where Falstaff and Hal take turns imitating King Henry, challenging the nature of their relationship to one another and to the King.

The overall look and feel of this production is decidedly stark and martial, with its booming soundtrack of warlike drums and Scott C. Neale’s simple set with thematic elements of iron and stone, and Dottie Marshall Englis’s richly detailed costumes add to the historic tone of the piece. The fight scenes are well choreographed by Paul Denhardt, with the battle scenes being a major dramatic highlight of this production. Ocel has managed to find just the right balance between the poignant drama, chaotic battle scenes, and rowdy comic relief. Hal’s journey from reluctant Prince to square-shouldered King is portrayed clearly and with riveting energy.

As epic as this installment of Hal’s journey is, however, this is only the beginning. Next week, the story continues with Henry V, and the plays will then be presented on alternating evenings for the rest of the run.  With such a profoundly moving, thoroughly engaging production as this, I find myself even more eagerly looking forward to the next part.  SFSTL has undertaken a momentous challenge in this latest project, and so far, they have more than lived up to their promise to deliver a timeless and timely, immensely satisfying and thought-provoking representation of one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated historical works.

Jim Butz, Tony DeBruno, Kari Ely, Alex Miller Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Jim Butz, Tony DeBruno, Kari Ely, Alex Miller
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

 

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Free Shakespeare is always a wonderful thing as far as I’m concerned, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis provides this in so many great ways. After seeing the wonderful Shakespeare in the Streets production, Old Hearts Fresh, over the weekend and then hearing the exciting news about their main stage production(s) for next year.  Their latest announcement is very ambitious, to say the least.

Next summer, SFSTL will be presenting a first for them–rather than one play, the Festival will be presenting three!  Over the course of two nights, SFSTL will present Shakespeare’s histories Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 and Henry V.  The plays will be presented in two nights with the same cast and set, repeating throughout the season in Forest Park.  This is amazing news!  These plays are so connected that it makes sense to perform them together, and the idea of being able spend two evenings enjoying free Shakespeare in the park sounds wonderful. It looks like it’s going to be an exciting season.

Now,  let me tell you about the excellent show I saw last weekend:

Old Hearts Fresh

by Nancy Bell

based on The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

Directed by Alex Wild

September 21, 2013

oldheartsfresh1

Shakespeare in the Streets in the Grove neighborhood was a resounding success. My only concern is that I wish the audiences could have been bigger. It was a good turnout, as a crowd of a few hundred assembled in folding chairs on the asphalt of the closed-off Manchester Avenue, but I wish more had been able to witness the fun, clever and thought-provoking fusion of classic Shakespeare and modern St. Louis in such a unique presentation.

Old Hearts Fresh only ran for about an hour, but playwright Nancy Bell was able to condense and update the material with surprising thoroughness—not just name-dropping places and events from the neighborhood (although there is plenty of that), but delving into the neighborhood’s history and psychology, all the while telling the story of The Winter’s Tale (with elements of Pericles) in an updated fashion with a mixture of Shakespearean and modern language.

The story is The Winter’s Tale condensed, with Leontes’ (Drew Battles) irrational jealousy and false accusation of his wife Hermione’s (Jacqueline Thompson) supposed infidelity with his childhood friend Polixenes (Antonio Rodriguez), who is gay in this production, which makes Leontes’ jealousy even more irrational. This jealousy leads to tragedy and regret, and leaves a lost daughter Perdita (played as a teenager by Wendy Greenwood) to be raised by a stranger (Don McClendon as Old Shepherd), and cause Leontes’ the dwell in sorrow and regret for sixteen years, only for events to finally resolve in a fantastical manner at the end. In the midst of all of this interaction is the character of Paulina (Marty Casey), a long-time Grove resident and friend of Leontes’ who helps to tell the tale and bring about its uplifting conclusion.

Time and change are big themes here, with Time represented as a larger-than-life character wonderfully played by local drag performer Michael Shreves in character as “Michelle McCausland”. In an array of colorful outfits and with an attitude and presence as big and colorful as the neighborhood itself, Shreves puts in a winning performance and narrates the action of the show that portrays themes of forgiveness, racial and familial reconicilation, and communication as the three main characters represent that passage of time. Paulina represents the neighborhood’s past, Leontes represents the present, and Perdita (along with the rest of the children and teens) represents its future, and all three of these characters are portrayed wonderfully by their actors. I was especially struck by Battles’ ability to make Leontes sympathetic despite some of his highly questionable actions, as well as Casey’s solidly grounding performance as the voice of reason, and Greenwood’s hopeful optimism. The entire cast, including several Grove residents with little to no acting experience, was excellent, and the ensemble chemistry and enthusiasm was readily apparent.

I loved the atmosphere of this show, as well, and the live music directed by Nathan Hershey added to the mood of the piece, as did the use of projections of photos of the neighbhorhood’s past, and the spectacular mural by local artist Grace McCammond.  It was all very distinctly Shakespeare, but also very St. Louis at the same time.  It was an impressive production and I found myself hoping Shakespeare in the Streets will come to my own neighborhood in the near future.

oldheartsfresh2

For more information about SFSTL’s 2014 season, check out their website in the sidebar of this blog

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