BY JOHN BONAZZO
Having mounted successful productions of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies in recent years, Theatrical Outreach Program (TOP) is now tackling Henry IV, one of the Bard’s histories. Thanks to a sterling troupe of actors and an engrossing presentation, this production stands with those earlier triumphs.
The plot is quite complicated, but here goes: 20 years ago Henry deposed King Richard II. In that time, he has not given sufficient help to the lords who helped him. Therefore, they decide to turn on him. Meanwhile, Prince Hal, the next in line for the throne, and his friend Poins are busy robbing drunk old Jack Falstaff when Hal is called to court. After this meeting, the son decides to aid his father who faces a revolt led by Henry’s former adviser Henry Percy. Both parties converge for battle in what becomes a tense standoff.
Directors Max Beyer and Jane Skapek do a good job making sure the show is fluid and not confusing. In their condensing of the play, they, along with their cast, have brought out a lot of comedy one would not normally expect in a more serious Shakespeare work. This balances the tone well and gives a new perspective.
The set is quite spare, comprising only some furniture and wooden beams, in keeping with the “timeless feel” Beyer and Skapek are aiming for, according to their director’s note. This aesthetic choice is also reflected in the modern costumes; King Henry is more imposing in a suit than in regal robes. The lighting effects are basically nonexistent until the final battle, but the red tones deployed therein heighten the intensity.
Mike Fynan is a commanding Henry, showing royal bearing in both kingly and familial obligations. David Portmore is an effective mix of levity and seriousness as Hal, morphing from child to man as he must assume a greater role in defense of the kingdom. Ricky Bordelon is great comic relief as Falstaff, thrashing about the stage with wild abandon; he shows a more sensitive side in the wonderfully delivered “Honor” soliloquy late in the show. Patrick Kelley is a scarily effective Percy, showing the anger bubbling under the adviser’s surface before showing true passion during the final battle. Ardenne Martin has great fun as the sidekick Poins.
Shakespeare’s histories are the least known of his plays, and it takes a quality theater group to keep the audience’s interest throughout an entire one. TOP carries off the job quite well, making Henry IV a wonderfully intelligent production that effectively caps off the first half of the spring theatre season.
(In the interest of full discretion, Ricky Bordelon, serves as the Opinion Editor at The Fordham Ram.)