Los Angeles Theater Review: HENRY IV, PART I (Antaeus Theater)

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by Jesse Herwitz on March 27, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


Henry IV Part 1 opens with a lengthy speech delivered by King Henry IV himself: “So shaken are we, so wan with care…” begins James Sutorius, one of the double-cast actors to play the King. “No more the thirsty entrance of the soil / Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood.”


Contextually, the speech refers to England’s resumption of the Holy Land Crusades after much internal rebellion, but to whom exactly Henry is addressing is a bit more intriguing. In the text, Shakespeare suggests (by his stage direction) that Henry speaks directly to the members of his court but in this production director Michael Murray removes all other actors from the stage and makes us the audience, the King’s new court. What this signals is that Henry is no longer talking to a group of his 15th-century peers but to a group of 21st-century ones. Still, no sooner than Henry says the last bits of his words, then new ‘children’ approach and make themselves present to quench the ever-thirsting soil.


The Antaeus company opens their new season with a production of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved of Histories plays. Ironically, Mr. Murray manages to take the piss out of the all stuffy history lessons by devoting his greater effort not to the lead-up of the climactic Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) but with the emotional lead-up of each of the principal characters (eternal).


This is the setup.

After being embarrassed by the King, Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Joe Holt) along with his disgruntled uncle, Worcester (played masterfully by Antaeus Founding member Tony Amendola) and father, Northumberland (Marcelo Tubert) decide to rebel against King Henry IV. In reaction, King Henry IV, storming around in a sleek business suit, becomes hell-bent on squashing the rebels quickly and summons his son, Prince Hal to join him in court and arms. Unfortunately for the King, Hal (Ramón de Ocampo), more resembling a millennial hipster than a medieval monarch, is flipping the finger high and mightily to pop while getting drunk  downtown off some good “sack” in the company of the original fat man, Sir John Falstaff (Gregory Itzin).


Mr. Itzin’s rendition of Falstaff is consistently spot-on yet inexplicably teeters between bringing the big laughs and leaving the theater in crickets. Mr. de Ocampo displays the appropriate range of emotion and offers a very good rendition of a son trying to impress his father but does stumble a little on when the transition from bratty to dastardly actually occurs. Mr. Holt’s is one of the more impressive portrayals of Hotspur, offering equal amounts of tenderness and hand flailing and hollering. Holt places Hotspur’s downfall not in oversimplified rage but in self-sabotaging awareness of that rage and compliance to follow it through to the end.


Anateus’s use of doubling its cast is effective in this production as different actors not only take on different roles but the roles of opposing characters. Jason Turner, for example, plays Hal’s companion Poins in one scene and then returns in the next to play his enemy, Douglas. Likewise, Elizabeth Dennehy delivers well both comically on Mistress Quickly, Falstaff’s counter-point, and stoically as one of King Henry’s knights, Vernon.

HenryIVPart1_Rogues_4NCOverall, Mr. Murray presents to us a safe retelling of Henry IV Part 1. Intense drama plays against bawdy humor in an almost one-for-one exchange of scenes. Pacing seems about right with maybe a little bit more drag time on the Eascheap scenes than need be. Michael Gend’s lighting is somewhat generic with cooler hues for the more dramatic sequences and warmer ones for the more humorous. Ken Merckx’s choreography (especially the sword play) is lively and well performed.

Whether the Antaeus Company is cleverly trying to tell a bigger modern story through Shakespeare’s late 16th-century construct or carelessly reducing the bigger history to a smaller one, the basic tenets remain confirmed and well presented. Hal grows up, Henry loosens up, and Falstaff is just funny enough.

The bottom line here is that you don’t need to be an English historian to enjoy watching Henry IV Part 1…but it might help.

HenryIVPart1_Rogues_2NCphotos by Karianne Flaathen

Henry IV, Part I
Antaeus Theater
5112 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood
ends on May 3, 2015
for tickets, call (818) 506-1983
or visit www.Antaeus.org

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