It’s politics as usual in Shakespeare Fest’s ‘Henry IV, Part I’, a saga of power and conflict | Arts
It is a piece about pivotal moments. Again and again, in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I,” troubled characters make pivotal decisions that sever ties, betray allies, and incite violence. There is no virtuous justice or high morality here, just power grabs, greed, impetuosity and deceit. In other words, it’s politics as usual.
At the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival in Tulane, director Burton Tedesco delivers a production of “Henry IV, Part I” that wallows in the muddy depths of the play’s amorality, charging into the breach with very little hand twist or guessing about the consequences.
The second installment in Shakespeare’s four-play story of England’s transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, this production of “Henry IV, Part I” successfully delves into the thrills of political drama while rocking snows to a violent conclusion and a rocky ending that sets the stage for what is to come.
Not so noble heir
After the coup in ‘Richard II’ which sees Henry Bolingbroke usurp the throne and crown himself King Henry IV, Shakespeare’s sequel opens with the new monarch lamenting civil unrest as fighting erupts along the borders of the Wales and Scotland. But it is the king’s son, the future Henry V, who is the real protagonist of “Henry IV, part I”.
The royal heir shows very little nobility, preferring to spend time in the company of drunks and thieves, much to his father’s chagrin.
However, Prince Harry, who knows a thing or two about pivotal moments, lets the public know his true intentions: When the time comes, he will “imitate the sun…piercing the fetid and ugly mists” of his misdeeds. , proving to his father and everyone else that he is a worthy successor after all, a calculated move made all the more impressive by the leap from the rags to royalty.
Harry is at the center of a three-pronged storyline. There is his association with the gluttonous Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, and a confederation of petty crooks; then there is the father-son affair, as the king laments the failures of the son who secretly plots to win his favor; and finally the rival Hotspur, a former ally of the king who now leads a rebellion that must be eradicated to maintain the power of the throne.
In this production, the Prince and Falstaff’s relationship transcends the three-point plot to take center stage, thanks in large part to a pair of dynamite performances from Jake Bartush as Harry and Mike Harkins as Falstaff. From the moment we meet them, waking up grumpy and hungover after a night of debauchery, the chemistry between the two lights up the scene.
The lean and wiry Bartush embodies the prince’s dual nature, putting a dark side to the comic shenanigans, as he oscillates between genuine fondness and open disdain for his godsend mate.
Harkins, suitably fat and grizzled as Falstaff, is just as deceitful as the loyal pal who, in another major pivotal moment, isn’t shy about abandoning any concept of honor as he tries to claim the glory of the prince as his own.
The pair of actors deliver performances that are both grand and subtle, grabbing the audience’s attention and wielding the poetry of the play like a graceful knight with a dangerous sword.
The downside to this strength of the production is that it overshadows the other two story rays. As king, Silas Cooper plays his role with a lofty detachment that often comes across as flat and one-dimensional, pushing the play’s essential father-son drama into the background.
Likewise, Brittany N. Williams plays Hotspur with a superficial anger that doesn’t quite capture the character’s passion of outrage, turning a heated rivalry into a lukewarm plot. There is dramatic redemption in a confrontation between the rebels and the royal family when Hotspur’s uncle, the Earl of Worcester, played by Monica R. Harris, confronts the king with mad fervor, ultimately prompting an equally vehement reaction. of the King. in another of the room’s pivot points.
Rounding out the cast is a solid cast of supporting actors who appropriately bulk up the play’s progression, all capable performers often tackling multiple roles. Joan Long’s setting is effectively minimalist and Suellen da Costa Coelho’s costumes approximate the period of the play.
While contemporary Shakespearean productions are often seasoned with modern band-aids (like last year’s Miami Vice-inspired ‘Comedy of Errors’ or 2019’s WWII-inspired ‘Much Ado About Nothing’), director Tedesco wisely allows to force this story to stand on its own.
In the final moments of the play, with the crown resting on a heavy head, viewers are reminded that even in victory history rages on, leaving violence and corruption both in its wake and on the horizon, as the audience waits for the next turn. moment that will shape the future landscape of politics and power.
“Henry IV, Part One”
WHEN: Until July 30
WHERE: Lupine Theater, Tulane University
TICKETS: $40 (discount for students, seniors and theater professionals)
INFORMATION: (504) 865-5105 or NewOrleansShakespeare.org