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Henry IV, Part 1

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

Virginia Shakespeare Festival
Williamsburg, VA


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, Hotspur.

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.