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This article by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the January 7,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Henry IV’

He will give the Devil his due," says Prince Hal with regard to his

old roguish friend Sir John Falstaff, in "Henry IV"

Most of all it is Shakespeare who gets his due and plenty more in the

splendid adaptation/consolidation by Dakin Matthews (who also appears

effectively in two small supporting roles) of "Henry IV" Parts 1 & 2,

now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Under the masterful

direction of Jack O’Brien, the almost four hours (including two

intermissions) have the effect of flying by, or rather catapulting by.

Not an insignificant feat considering that the Bard’s language, the

complex history that propels the text, and the confluence of so many

dynamic events and characters require our most dutiful concentration

and focus. We give it happily. There is a helpful timeline and

chronology given with the program.

That the entire production proves to be sheer pleasure from start to

finish can be attributed in equal parts to the rousing performances of

a stellar company and the often breathtaking visual imagery that is

conjured up within designer Ralph Funicello’s multi-leveled mobile

setting. Comprised of huge wooden scaffolding that reach to the

rafters and shifts from scene to scene with an awesome mobility and

enhanced by lighting designer Brian MacDevitt’s brilliant lights and

shadows, the play unfolds like a cinematic epic.

If I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to say that "Henry IV"

is Shakespeare’s greatest history play, I can say that this production

is the finest version of this play I’ve seen and as sublime a

reflection of the source material as it gets. With only a faint memory

of a highly eccentric but complete (presented in two nights) version

of "Henry IV" directed by JoAnne Akalaitis for the Public Theater in

1991 (that included an original score by Philip Glass), I still submit

that O’Brien’s staging takes the prize for its sheer accessibility,

clarity of vision and purpose, a feat that even the purists should be

able to adjust to. With all due respect for the thunderously and

savagely evoked battle scenes that infiltrate the text so vividly, it

is the virtuosity of the cast that deserves the most praise. Rarely

have so many gathered in Shakespeare’s name rendered his blank verse

and prose with such ease and intelligence.

Kevin Kline, a formidable and versatile actor whose "Hamlet" for the

Public Theater may have been his most challenging and informed

Shakespearean role, outdoes himself as the "irresponsible liar without

malice, lover of wine, women and song" Sir John Falstaff. Portrayed

with perhaps less conspicuous pretensions than rabid fans of the "huge

hill of flesh" might prefer, that is except for his Santa Claus beard,

he is, to these eyes, a man of conspicuous wit and misguided morals

who is above all lovably pathetic, villainous and vain. Considering

how Falstaff is famously known as one of the greatest comic figures in

dramatic literature and made more so by Kline’s artful

characterization, he, nevertheless, plays an unimportant role in the

scheme of things.

As Falstaff reigns over the lowlife and bawdy world, recklessly

influencing the young Prince Hal, played with high spirited brio by

Michael Hayden, it is the high-life and intrigue of the duplicitous

political world of King Henry IV (Richard Easton), John of Lancaster

(Lorenzo Pisoni), Hotspur (Ethan Hawks), among others that spin the

subtle shifts of power. Known for her glorious voice, Audra McDonald

does not get to sing but speaks the verse most lyrically as Hotspur’s

wife. Wonderful Dana Ivey gets serious as Lady Northumberland but also

gets the laughs she works for with her piercing high-pitched bleating

as Mistress Quickly.

The cuts (mostly in Part 2) do not affect either the flow of the

action or the continuity of the story that principally concerns a

conflict between a King and his rebellious heir while the unjustly

gained kingdom is threatened by a Welsh rebel force. While the pomp

and circumstance of the royals, the typical family issues and feuds,

that also includes those of Hotspur and his father Thomas Percy (Byron

Jennings), are clearly 15th century England, one cannot help but give

a sideway glance at those who reign within our own kingdom.

– Simon Saltzman

"Henry IV" (through January 18th), Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln

Center. For tickets ($85) call 212-239-6200. To January 18.

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