Henry IV, parts 1 & 2
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
September 13, 2008
ShakespeareNYC is an admirable company. They produce full-scale productions of all of Shakespeare's plays with good professional actors in elaborate costumes, and are currently tackling the massive two part Henry the Fourth. Unfortunately, the performance I saw of Henry the Fourth, Part Two was listless and unengaging, despite some solid performances.
Henry the Fourth is a sprawling pair of plays, covering the evolution of Prince Hal from a callow youth who spends his time cavorting in bars and whorehouses with the dissolute knight John Falstaff to the mighty warrior Henry the Fifth. Most of the real action occurs in Part One, which climaxes with Hal's redeeming victory in single combat over the rebel prince Hotspur. Part Two focuses more on Henry actually transforming his youthful promise into maturity, while Falstaff continues to engage in comic foolery and abuse the little power he has, secure in his belief that great things await him once Prince becomes King.
Director Beverly Bullock doesn't seem to have much of a point of view on these proceedings, and scenes mostly proceed as though the actors had memorized their lines in private and are simply trying not to get in each other's way. This easy approach gets the text across clearly and simply, but isn't very dramatically engaging. The comedy in particular suffers, as the production doesn't give actors enough space to really play with one another.
Benjamin Curns gives his best effort as Falstaff, and has some truly nice moments, and Peter Galman is a strong and dignified Henry the Fourth, but Brian Morvant is such a blank slate as Prince Hal that all the emotional high points of the show fall flat. The ensemble does feature some nice performances in smaller roles, such as the always excellent Steven Eng as the dignified Chief Justice, Mark Jeter as the clever Poins and the creepy Francis Feeble, and in particular Yury Lomakin, who gives the most lived-in, honest performance of the play as the cautious rebel Mowbray.
No set designer is credited on the production, which is interesting as the massive set contributes substantially to the show's major problems. The centerpiece of the set is a tower which juts out into the center of the stage, which has curtains that can be removed to create a room. Unfortunately, this tower has the effect of bisecting the playing space, and leaves director Bullock with so little room to work that the blocking pretty much consists entirely of one character moving and talking while the others passively stand still. Even when the "room" is utilized, the pillars that hold up the roof take up so much space that those within it can barely be seen. The costumes and makeup are nice, particularly those on Joseph Small, who as the drunkard Bardolph is made up to look like a goblin.
This production isn't bad, and it certainly had some moments I enjoyed. But they weren't quite enough to add up to a dramatically engaging evening.