THEATER: “Henry IV, Parts I & II” (Condensed) @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

August 14th, 2014, 1:00 pm by Sara
The cast of Henry IV, Parts I and II (photo:  Kevin Sprague)

The cast of Henry IV, Parts I and II (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

Shakespeare’s two history plays purporting to be about King Henry IV of England (1367-1413 CE) are actually about the coming of age of his son, the future King Henry V (1386-1422 CE). They form the center of the Bard’s tetralogy which begins with Richard II and ends with Henry V, although some will argue that Henry VI, Parts I, II and III are also a part of what becomes then a seven-play cycle. All of this was quite recent history for Shakespeare (1564-1616 CE) and these plays were not only very popular entertainment, but also formed the Tudor equivalent of the required high school course in American History we are familiar with today. At a time when most people were illiterate and few had any formal schooling, they could learn the royally sanctioned history of their land at the theater while laughing at Sir John Falstaff and his merry band of thieves and whores.

Performed in their entirety, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II occupy the stage for a good seven hours. Hard to perform apart contextually, they are impossibly expensive and time consuming for a modern company to perform together. Starting off last year with a production of Richard II, Shakespeare & Company wanted to continue on with the history plays, and so commissioned actor/director Jonathan Epstein to condense Henry IV into one play. The resulting work runs a solid three hours, and when you add in the much-needed 20-minute intermission you walk out of the theater about three and a half hours after you entered. Thankfully the evening performances start at 7:30, not 8pm.

Epstein has cut much of the history in favor of the excellent comedy in the plays, but sadly that renders the politics and battles that remain even harder for the average audience member to understand. Adding to that muddle, just about every significant political player is named Henry (and sometimes called Harry or Hal), which is neither Epstein nor Shakespeare’s fault, that’s just history. For the sake of clarity in this review we will refer to them as Henry IV, Prince Hal (the future King Henry V), Hotspur (Henry Percy), and Percy (Hotspur’s father, the Earl of Northumberland).

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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Jonathan Epstein Adapts, Directs and Stars in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” Thru Aug. 31 [Berkshire on Stage]

August 7th, 2014, 1:30 pm by Sara
In rehearsal: Henry Clarke (l) and Jonathan Epstein (phot: Elizabeth Aspenlieder)

In rehearsal: Henry Clarke (l) and Jonathan Epstein (photo: Elizabeth Aspenlieder)

A sweeping spectacle of bawdy buffoonery and bloody rebellion, director Jonathan Epstein’s razor sharp and condensed adaptation of Henry IV delivers both parts in one dynamic evening of theatre. Performances run in Shakespeare & Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse through August 31. Press opening is Friday (August 8) at 7pm.

Shakespeare’s take on honor, war, sex and violence has never been more acute than in this riotous comedy that inter-mingles the young-rascal-that-would-be-king, Prince Hal, with the psychological underpinnings of father/son relationships. Epstein sets Shakespeare’s wildest history tale between a bustling 15th century Eastcheap and a more contemporary London, where both settings blend together as we follow this stirring history of succession to the throne. Meet the notorious Prince Hal, heir apparent, who rebels against his father, forsakes the court and engages in petty crime with that huge ‘sweet creature of bombast,’ the unruly knight Falstaff. When the Prince’s nemesis, Hotspur, and the northern lords rebel, will Hal stay and continue carousing with his surrogate ‘father’ Falstaff or heed the call of duty from the ailing King Henry? An exhilarating and potent journey through time and history, Henry IV offers many of the most memorable characters and lines in Shakespeare’s canon as it continues to captivate and mesmerize audiences over four centuries later.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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