An Excellent Falstaff Highlights ‘Henry IV’
By Mal Vincent
– “A well-balanced
‘Henry IV, Part 1’
that captures both the comedy and the seriousness of the text”
SIR JOHN FALSTAFF, Shakespeare's most
jolly knight, is back and, as played by Larry Miller in Virginia
Shakespeare Festival's Henry IV, Part 1, is more salacious,
guzzling, bragging and lying than ever.
The historical epic, which in its more
serious moments dramatizes the political machinations of a royal
rebellion, is part of the festival's 26th season.
Miller, this year's "guest artist'' at
the Williamsburg festival, played Falstaff in the 1995 production of
The Merry Wives of Windsor, which was just a warm-up for the more
lively opportunities present in this play.
It's a famous part for character actors,
and Miller makes the most of it. He does so without the coarseness and
slapstick often employed by others. Miller has both the girth and the
mirth for the part. His Falstaff is outrageous and filled with vigorous
life, ranging from the fool to the witty parasite.
Yet, this Falstaff is a character, not a
caricature - a lover of life who, despite his excesses, still has love
and respect for his young friend, Prince Hal. The prince is the party
guy who will turn into the honorable Henry V if we just give him time
(and three more plays). Miller rises to the challenge of the famous
speech about "honor,'' which, after all, is the heart of the play.
Young audiences can readily see this
Henry as a coming-of-age drama. Prince Hal, as played with youthful
verve and likable vulnerability by Matt Bolte, is into gambling and
wenching with his low companions (led by Falstaff) but shapes up to
champion his father's cause and eventually become Henry V.
This is a beautiful and subtle depiction
of the relationship between father and son.
In the version of history espoused by
Shakespeare, Prince Hal's liberal education under Falstaff gave him an
understanding of the common man that served him well as King Henry V.
Celia Madeoy as tavern hostess Mistress
Quickly holds her own boisterously with the roustabouts. John Page is a
suitably fiery and reckless rebel Henry Percy, living up to his surname,
The battle of Shrewsbury, which results
in a royal victory for Hal, is splendidly staged with clashes of metal.
Russell Fenton as the Scots' Earl of Douglas is especially ferocious in
the highly entertaining "battle.''
Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort with
impressive costumes by Jennifer Tiranti Anderson, this is a
well-balanced "Part I'' that captures both the comedy and the
seriousness of the text.
It is performed in repertory with A
Midsummer Night's Dream.