Henry IV

By Magelssen, Scott | Shakespeare Bulletin, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Henry IV


Magelssen, Scott, Shakespeare Bulletin


Henry IV

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, New York, New York. October 28, 2003-January 18, 2004. Directed by Jack O'Brien. Adapted from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 by Dakin Matthews. Sets by Ralph Funicello. Costumes by Jess Goldstein. Lighting by Biran MacDevitt. Fight direction by Steve Rankin. Special Effects by Gregory Meeh. With Richard Easton (King Henry IV), Genevieve Elam (Doll Tearsheet), Ethan Hawke (Hotspur), Michael Hayden (Prince Hal), Dana Ivey (Quickly, Lady Northumberland), Byron Jennings (Worcester), Kevin Kline (Falstaff), Audra McDonald (Lady Percy), and others.

The Lincoln Center's presentation of the two Henry IV plays, though severely condensed and reedited into a single, three-act performance, still lasts upwards of four hours with two intermissions. Director Jack O'Brien and script adaptor Dakin Matthews (the latter also appearing in the production as Warwick) give the audience, in that span of time, a conservative, boiled-down version of Shakespeare's history of royal succession. Stage time aside, by emphasizing and augmenting Shakespeare's subplots, Matthews and O'Brien relegate the story of king Henry and his son and heir, young Hal, to the background. The production instead serves as a generous vehicle for Kevin Kline and Ethan Hawke.

Hawke and Kline own the show from the first moments. Hawke's Hotspur arrives via a fire-pole, and paces the stage with pent up energy, beating his bared chest, as well as the chests of his brothers-in-arms. The angry, impatient delivery works for a nice moment in act one between Hotspur and his uncle, Worcester, when the hot-headed youth continuously interrupts his elder's attempts to impart wisdom:

   WORCESTER: Good cousin, give me audience for a while.
   HOTSPUR: I cry you mercy.
   WORCESTER: Those same noble Scots
   That are your prisoners--
   HOTSPUR: I'll keep them all!

But this early-established trajectory disallows Hawke's performance any kind of arc. Hotspur maintained this hoarse, maniacal plateau throughout the evening.

Not only does the show frequently feature Kline's Falstaff at center stage (as Shakespeare intended, granted) but it over-obviously accords the entire stage and two adoring follow-spotlights to him for the delivery of each of his pithy paradoxical maxims and testimonials to the virtues of sack. Kline lives up to the opportunity. He makes Falstaff's language clear and accessible, and works the crowd's attention to the fullest (he actually had to cut off several interruptive rounds of applause with waves of his hand in order to finish his speeches). The "other" main character, Prince Hal, with Michael Hayden's traditional delivery and strict attention to language, could, frankly, only be boring in comparison.

Scholars have been a bit contentious over whether Falstaff should be portrayed as a melancholy soul or a delightful Renaissance icon--Harold Bloom holds that, in this regard, Falstaff is a more important hallmark of Shakespeare's contribution to humanism than Hamlet--and O'Brien's production weighs in on the far end of the latter pole with an unconflictedly happy Falstaff. Any brief hints of melancholy in acts one and two are extinguished by the third act, where Sir John becomes a consummate charmer. He's guarded, maybe a bit suspicious, when Hal alludes to dumping him, but not hurt. The final scene, in which Henry rejects his former companions, avoids any real tragedy that other productions have found in the moment: after throwing Falstaff to the ground, the new king thinks better of it and affectionately pats his friend on the head. Then Falstaff becomes, if not melancholic, simply sulky.

Michael Hayden, as Prince Hal, lacks substantial charisma, and saps the already meager energy from the room each time he enters. Richard Easton's performance as the King is similarly unremarkable, and indeed it was difficult to believe in the "death" part of his deathbed scene in act three, as he inexplicably transitioned from prone languishing to a fully upright, almost chipper delivery of the lines chastising Hal for his premature eagerness to claim his inheritance and the crown. …

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