Off Broadway Reviews
Luigi Pirandello's Henry IV is an interesting examination of the fine line that exists between sanity and insanity. Though based partially on historical fact, its story about a man who hits his head and lives for two decades believing he is the early German monarch, is original, and frequently very interesting.
Less can be said, though, about the production currently at the Studio Theatre, which does little to put across the meaning and power of the original play. Though the ambition required to tackle such a daunting piece is admirable, the result is primarily messy. Because mistakes are made in practically every conceivable aspect of the production, the fault can likely be traced to the director, John Regis.
Regis's blocking of the actors is often confused, though not always unattractive. Very few of the play's salient dramatic moments are played for their full effect, and very few come across at all. Certain speeches and events in the play (especially during the second half) are very slowly paced, which doesn't help. E. Shura Pollatsek's costumes and Yoshi Tanokura's simple set help a little, but Charles Cameron's lights - which are frequently dim when the cues don't seem to be late - contribute little that is positive to the atmosphere of the play.
More serious, though, is Regis's treatment of the actors - each seems to be in a different play. Though Henry IV was originally produced in 1922, it is impossible to tell for certain if Regis intended his production to be set there. Most of the actors use a number of modern mannerisms, but the ones who don't seem more stiffly connected to another era, certainly not ours.
To make matters worse, the actors' performances themselves are muddy and unfocused. Dan Berkey, in the title role, acts mostly in bursts, screaming or forcing out his most "important" lines, often painfully. At one point in the second half of the show, he slams his fists on a table loud enough to wake the dead, but without enough emotional force to connect us to his character. With many of Henry's speeches and character moments lengthily articulated and drawn-out by Pirandello, Berkey's performance makes certain segments of the play seem twice as long as they must actually be.
Laurence Drozd, as Henry's nemesis, Balcredi, is more convincing as mannered in the first half than he is successfully menacing in the second, though the stated age of his character never comes through. Carl Pasbjerg's Doctor is stunningly modern and one-level, his knowing smirk his primary means of expressing emotion. Evangelia Costantakos and Adreine Erdos do not make convincing female interests for Henry. The rest of the actors generally do their best with what little they have to work with.
Buried beneath the faults of the production, though, is Pirandello's script, which contains much that is thoughtful and clever, with plenty of good material for anyone up to the challenges of the title role. But the story itself points up the weaknesses in the work done here - the circumstances surrounding Henry's accident, his relationship to the two women who come to visit him, and the men who attend him are all glossed over and simplified by Regis.
Perhaps, because of the literary nature of so much of Pirandello's writing in Henry IV, it will remain a play that is best experienced when read. In the case of the production now at the Studio Theatre, that is certainly the case.
The Storm Theatre Company