Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Henry Bolingbrook, King Henry IV, is the only monarch, among his many history plays, to whom Shakespeare devoted two complete plays. The plays pursue two discrete, though related, paths, either one of which is grist for a full single play. One is the history by which Henry IV defends his throne against the Percy clan: the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Worcester, and Henry Percyson of the former, nephew of the latterwho is called "Hotspur," a clue to his temperament. The Percys aided Henry in usurping the throne from his predecessor, Richard II, and feel they have been given little thanks for their efforts. Joining the Percys are the Scottish Earl of Douglas, the Welsh chief Owen Glendower, and Edmund Mortimer, who had been Richard II's designated heir. This stream of Henry IV is built around strategy meetings, forging alliances, and battle scenes.
The other stream focuses on Henry IV's son Prince Henry, who goes by the youthful moniker, Hal. Hal troubles his father by casting aside the obligations and decorum to which he was born, instead living a life devoted to drink, women, and playing elaborate pranks on his compatriots. Among those, Falstaff thinks of himself as a kind of elder statesman. He is a confirmed hedonist, older than the others, notably rotund, and nearly always inebriated. He is akin to a college drop-out who continues to hang around campus and party with undergrads even after decades have widened the gap between his age and theirs. Falstaff is a liar, a boaster (usually of false claims), a debtor, and easily deceived.
Hal does not respect the old sot, yet has great affection for him. This is in contrast to his father, the king, for whom Hal has no affection, yet great respect, albeit of the grudging sort. Hal must reconcile his life of idle play with his awareness that destiny will not allow him to remain on that merry course. The revolt of the Percys and their allies forces Hal to demonstrate the courage and valor of which is capable. Later, as his father's health begins to fail, he must finally make the transition from Prince Hal to the future King Henry V, and accordingly alter his relationship with the life represented by Falstaff.
As the title Rogue Prince suggests, Briggle focuses on Hal and his transformation from youthful reveler to an adult prepared to assume weighty responsibilities. Henry IV and Falstaff are leading roles, without doubt, but it is Prince Hal who, turning into Henry V, holds the center of the play. Briggle has shorn a great deal of text relating to the alliances and battles, keeping enough to retain the historical context of the piece, with well-done swordplay (terrifically staged by fight director Adam Scarpello) that makes visible the high stakes at play and adds a swath of swashbuckling adventure to the show. But the contrast between Hal's life amid the pubs and in the woods with his friends, and the strained formality of life in the king's castle is the dominating focus throughout. This serves the work well, making it a compelling story with a central character whose conflict continues to be relatable to audiences in the 21st century.
Briggle and Lehr make great use of the space in the basement social hall of Calvary Baptist Church in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. The audience is seated in single rows of chairs that line three sides of a large, rectangular staging area. Odd bistro tables, stools, trunks, and other items are carried on and off to create the pubs and woods frequented by Prince Hal, Falstaff, and their band. Above the fourth side of that playing area is a raised, curtained proscenium stage that becomes the setting for the king's court. While still furnished simply, this space has a more formal feeling than the floor. Moreover, it is literally an elevated space, making a clear differentiation between the low course Hal pursues in his youth and the higher ground to which he must, even against his instincts, ascend.
Mark Kieffer's lighting further distinguishes these two realms and creates the atmosphere for the play's array of events, from a heated battle to a royal procession, an attempted seduction to rousing toasts with glasses raised. Costume designer Chelsea Wren Hanvy effectively casts distinction between the roughnecks and the royals without resorting to extremes in either direction.
James Napoleon Stone gives a magnetic performance as Prince Hal, his giddy, boyish laughter and affection for his rough-hewn friends always tainted by the hint that he knows all this will end, and that sooner or later he must grow up. Rising to the heights on the battlefield, his determination is palpable, as he defends not only his father's throne, but his own untested future. Stone speaks Hal's lines with eloquence, yet manages to convey the doubts he must work through in order to become Henry V.
Briggle's portray of Falstaff is a complete delight, releasing waves of humor with the old braggart's pomposity and debauched character, while drawing sympathy to the sincerity of his affection for his mates and the hopelessness with which he strives to be of importance. In the course of the play, we see Falstaff wearing out, as his old-man partying-with-the-boys act becomes unsustainable. As Henry IV, Bruce Bohne gives a stirring performance, decrying those who challenge his position on the throne, and venting to all who will hear, his disgust with his oldest son's degraded lifestyle. Yet he manages to betray a glimmer of hope that this prodigal son will return to assume his place in the family's bloodline.
Among the remaining members of the large cast, most of whom play multiple roles, Ben Shaw is a fierce presence as Hotspur, seething with a ferocious desire to claim what he believes is his family's just rewards, by what ever means he may. Meg Bradley is delightful as Dame Quickly, the host of the Boar's Head Tavern where Falstaff holds his own manner of court. Anna Leverett is alluring as Doll Tearsheet, who tries to bring tenderness to Falstaff, and brings fire to her portrayal of Lady Percy. Damien Everett is notable as the prankster Poins and as Hal's staunch younger brother, Prince John.
Directors Briggle and Lehr do a remarkable job of making every member of this talented acting ensemble be actively present whenever they are on stage. Never does anyone just stand to one side; they are always engaged in whatever is happening or reacting to whatever is said in their presence.
Theatre Coup 'Etat has given Rogue Prince a gripping production that combines the eloquence of Shakespeare's language with brisk, engrossing stagecraft, a sensitive focus on the human story at the heart of the Henry IV plays, and strong performances. Whether you like history, adventure tales, introspective examinations of an individual growing into his own life, ribald comedy, or just a crackling good show, I recommend this one to you.
Rogue Prince, a Theatre Coup d'Etat production, runs through October 26, 2019, at Calvary Baptist Church, 2608 Blaisdell Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $18.00 to $40.00 on a sliding scale. For tickets and information, visit www.theatrecoupdetat.com.
Adapted by Gary Briggle from Henry IV, Parts I & II by William Shakespeare, based on a script by Orson Welles; Director: Gary Briggle and Wendy Lehr; Costume Design: Chelsea Wren Hanvy; Light Design: Mark Kieffer; Sound Design: Forest Godfrey; Fight Director: Adam Scarpello; Intimacy Coach: Emma VanVactor-Lee; Dialect Coach: Jim Ahrens; Stage Manager: Sarah Wolf; Production Manager: James Napoleon Stone.
Cast: Bruce Bohne (King Henry IV), Meg Bradley (Dame Quickly/Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester/ traveler), Gary Briggle (Sir John Falstaff), Corey De Danann (Earl of Northumberland/ Sheriff of London/Lord Chief Justice/traveler), Kaylyn Forkey (Pistol/Sir Walter Blunt/ Earl of Surrey/Douglas), Anna Leverett (Doll Tearsheet/Vernon/ Lady Percy/Bishop of London/Earl of Warwick/ traveler), Damian Leverett (Prince John of Lancaster/Poins), Don Maloney (Bardolph), James Napoleon Stone (Henry "Hal", Prince of Wales, later King Henry V), Ben Shaw (Henry Percy, aka "Hotspur"/Justice Shallow), Kjer Whiting (Earl of Westmoreland/Silence/Peto/Corporal Nym).