nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
May 29, 2011
Resonance Ensemble's H4 is a marvelous rendition of this Shakespeare history. Amidst rollicking farce and fast-paced action, we clearly get the story of a boy willing to sacrifice himself and his friends to accept his destiny as a man and king.
The adaptation by Michael Chmiel, Allegra Libonati, Michael Nathanson, and Brian Silliman is an excellent cutting and intermeshing of the two parts of Henry IV (mostly Part 1). Nathanson, as Prince Hal, transitions from the unruly object of tabloid derision to reputable public figure with the strong choice of practically becoming a new character; along with his costume, his voice and demeanor totally shift. Director Libonati's choice for him to pass through the back screen to make this symbolic transition, to have the atonement with his father, reads quite clearly.
The banter between Hal and Falstaff, played by Brian Silliman, is a joy. The brilliant scene where the two play out Hal's confrontation with his father beforehand, giving each the chance to jibe at the other and speak truthfully about themselves, is arranged by Libonati with a clear turning point, where laughter no longer pervades, so the most honest reflections are fully heard. Silliman maintains a distanced playful grin, so in moments like this where his eyes shift, the flipside of the flippant Falstaff, his pained self-defense, clearly reveals itself.
After killing Hotspur, Hal believes Falstaff to be dead close by. Of course, Falstaff is only playing dead, and continues to pop up to embarrass the prince in public. His last line of the play—"I shall be sent for soon at night,"—feels like a hint towards the oft repeated story of a politician caught between his public image and his private sexual activities. The mask slips, and Falstaff, that merry reveler, inevitably returns. When he rejects Falstaff, Hal is simultaneously rejecting his past self. It feels heartbreaking when Hal banishes all his old friends from his presence, but for this point—its necessity for his public image.
There are many fine performances to speak of here. Timothy McCown Reynolds, as King Henry, holds his love for and disappointment in his son with dignity and desperation. Alice Bahlke has hopeful grace and longing for her distant husband as Lady Percy. Dorothy Abrahams is hilarious as a Long-Island-attitude squawking Mistress Quickly. As Bardolph, Joe Jung's heavy metal air-guitar matches fantastically with a scene's dialogue. Joie Bauer is a towering, blood-thirsty Earl of Douglas. Brian D. Coats gives a spine-tingling performance as a southern minister/witch doctor Glendower. His drawl is immediately off putting as a racial stereotype, but transitions into a powerful possessing gnaw. His daughter, Lady Mortimer, played by Jensen Austria Olaya, also has a moment of magic in a duet with Jung. Like so many great moments, it temporarily transports the space into another sphere of energy.
Sarah B. Brown's screen-centered design is clean and to the point. Johnathan Carr innovatively uses video projections that interact with on-stage characters. Libonati's coordination of all the elements at work here, the variety of characters and scenic styles, makes for a smooth yet unpredictable production.
The production intentionally references and replicates the aesthetic of the television show 24 in its video sequences. It opens with the recognizable flitting digital numbers, but turns to "H4" instead of "24." We even hear the voiceover "previously, on H4…" This style effectively communicates the various developing subplots, and keeps dramatic tension building, but my personal association with the TV show 24 is Jack Bauer trying to decide whether or not to torture a terrorist to save his family, so I was left wondering what the conceptual linkage was to this show, considering such consistent direct reference. Does our country not fully embody the virtue necessary for its prominent political role by using enhanced interrogation? Or rather, must we abandon our allies (and their "immature standards") to do what we know is right for the greater good? Maybe a hint comes when Hal frees the captured Douglas rather than executing him, that our justice ought not be mere vengefulness; that a true leader exercises humanity. In that case H4 would be a sort of counterpoint to 24.
During intermission, a countdown clock signaled when the show would resume, and audience members sprinted back into their seats. I'm certainly eager to see more work from these artists. Whether the way the play is modernized in its aesthetic makes it accessible or it is the strength of its archetypes and the way they were embodied, the production resonated with me.