Henry IV, Part 1 at Shakespeare Theatre (a few, very few, comments)

I was a history major in college because history interests me.  Virtually all history.  With one exception, that I cannot explain.  I am, and always have been, completely bored with the history of the British Isles.  Why that is so, I have no idea.  But English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish history just leave me cold.  You would think otherwise.  There are language affinities, which make the history more approachable, and of course there is a strong connection between Britain and the history of the Americas.  But it just leaves me cold.

And, of course, when something leaves you cold, you learn less about it, and you remember less that you learn about it.  So, for that reason, Yorks and Plantagenets, and Tudors, and the Duke of this and the Earl of that…….I could care less.

For this reason, I have undoubtedly been less attracted to Shakespeare’s histories that I otherwise would be.  I have seen many of them, of course, but I couldn’t tell you the differences between the Henrys, or anything about the difference between the Richards (except that only one of them offered to trade his kingdom for a horse).

All of which is a preface to our seeing Henry IV, Part I, last night at the Shakespeare Theatre.  It’s an odd play, almost two plays in one.  There is the history of Henry IV, who himself did not come from any royal lineage and his fighting off those who believe his kingship to be unauthorized and who may (or perhaps not) supported Richard.  And then there is the non-historical story of old Jack Falstaff, 60 year old, overweight drunk and abrasive Good Time Charlie.  What ties the story together is Prince Hal, of course, the son of his father the King, and the drinking and carousing and whoring buddy of Falstaff.

Enjoyed the production – it was not set on the Lower East Side or in Venice or any time in the future.  It was set when it actually historically occurred – of course, I have no idea when that was.  And you couldn’t tell from the sets, which were very effective and seamless and quite simple.  I now have an idea of what happened – those rebelling against Henry IV were unsuccessful.  And I am curious to know what happens in Henry IV, part 2, which we will see sometime over the next few weeks.  I am certain that Hal will be OK – after all, he did become Henry V, didn’t he?  (But other than sparring with and fighting with some of the nobles, did either of these two Henrys do anything worth remembering?  I have no idea.)

One interesting point.  I had a hard time following all of what Percy was saying – not that his enunciation was not clear, but some of his many lines were spoken very quickly, and by the time I figured out what he was saying, he was two or three lines ahead.  But I had not trouble following Falstaff.  At intermission, I spoke with a friend.  He followed Percy with no problem, but said that he had a hard time following everything Falstaff said.  How to explain?  Ears, where we were sitting?

Acting was first class all around.  Perhaps Percy (John Keabler) could have slowed down at times.  Perhaps Falstaff (Stacy Keach) could have been a bit more over the top at times.  But those are minor complaints – and perhaps unjustified.  Show is still in previews – we will see what the critics say.


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