Making of a King 'Henry IV' Sets Coming-of-Age Tale against Political Backdrop

Article excerpt

Byline: Barbara Vitello Daily Herald Staff Writer

"Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2"

* * * 1/2

out of four

Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

Times: 5:45 p.m. today, June 2, 9 and 16; 4 p.m. Saturday, June 3, 10 and 17; 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 7 and 14; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 4, 11 and 18

Running time: About 6 hours, including intermissions and dinner break

Parking: Paid lot adjacent to theater

Tickets: $95, optional boxed lunch available for $19

Box office: (312) 595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com

Rating: For teens and older

Chicago Shakespeare Theater confirms what many of us suspect and few care to admit: political expediency trumps personal integrity.

We want to believe honor motivates our leaders. Deep down, we know better. They make promises they don't keep and demand loyalty they don't reciprocate. CST's stellar production of Shakespeare's "Henry IV Parts 1 and 2" - a coming-of-age tale underscored by hardball politics - bears that out.

Director Barbara Gaines emphasizes as much in her judiciously edited, shrewdly directed marathon which CST remounts in Stratford, England, in July as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's year- long celebration of Shakespeare's works. Almost every scene - from the raucous hijinks in the tavern to the somber exchanges at court - has an edge to it. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone plays the angles, calculating how to advance their own interests and maneuvering themselves into a position to do so.

With that in mind, "Henry IV" emerges as a lesson in realpolitik where allies sell each other out, cunning politicos renege on their promises, friends use and then discard each other and honor and loyalty no longer have a place.

Jeffrey Carlson plays young Prince Hal, King Henry IV's indolent heir apparent, who prefers carousing with the amiably corrupt John Falstaff (a tour-de-force performance by Greg Vinkler in what has become a signature role) and his unscrupulous crew to attending his royal duties.

John Douglas Thompson plays Hotspur, a quick-tempered, fiercely loyal nobleman who is everything Hal is not. Hal is the classic disaffected son, tormented by his failure to please the man he both fears and loves.

But he is not the reprobate he seems to be. Recognizing that he must eventually reject his lifestyle and take his proper place, he insists he will throw off his loose behavior and pay the debt he never promised. …