1 Henry IV

By - May 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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Sometimes theatre hurts. Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production of 1 Henry IV can attest to this, having suffered a few minor injuries early in its run. When Jeffrey Withers sustained a show-stopping injury to his lower back, it was only a short while until someone else had suffered a minor broadsword wound to the hand. After a few days, however, the show was back on its feet to start the second weekend with a flourish. Milwaukee Shakespeare continues its multi-season staging of The Henriad, closing its 2006-2007 season with 1 Henry IV.

Jeff Allin stars as King Henry IV, the consummate politician who has taken over a tumultuous empire. Allin’s performance echoes that of any contemporary politician in poise and presence. As the play opens, the audience is made aware of an uprising against him in the south lead by Welshman Owen Glendower (an intense Lawrnce O’Dwyer). Meanwhile, supposed Henry loyalist Henry Percy (a charismatic Brian J. Gill) is refusing to send reinforcements from the north that Henry had requested. As the play opens, the King is summoning Percy back to the court to explain his actions.

The play’s center rests with Henry’s son, Prince Hal (Jeffrey Withers), who has taken in with bandits and highwaymen. Some of the production’s most intense moments happen at a tavern between Hal and the thieves. Hal is caught somewhere between royalty and thievery as he associates himself with the likes of the rotund rogue Sir John Falstaff (Richard Ziman). Hal and Falstaff play an intricate game of subtle wits at the tavern that plays out particularly well in the intimate space of the studio theatre. Shakespearian subtleties that don’t normally get rendered in all that much detail burst with texture here. Milwaukee Shakespeare further ratchets up the intensity by having the audience flank the stage. Actors play between halves of the audience in a captivating 3-dimensional space that lends the play a very accessible earthiness.

Action is particularly intense in the tiny space. The fight scenes are meticulously choreographed with painstaking attention to detail. Careful thought was put into the psychology and motivations behind aggression and it all comes through with a remarkable degree of clarity. Fights are played out in epic slow motion, which runs the risk of seeming silly in such close quarters were it not all so well executed. The interaction between Withers and Ziman is particularly captivating. Both perform with a style and poise that serve as a memorable high point of the production.

The production leads directly into part two without much of a feeling of finality. Local theater audiences will have to wait until next season to see Henry IV wrap up at the Broadway Theatre center. It’s a bit of a strange experience sitting through something like three hours of Shakespeare and not having it reach a final conclusion, but there’s more than enough that reaches some form of resolution to satiate audiences until next season. VS

Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production of 1 Henry IV runs through May 20th at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 414-747-9659 or online at www.milwaukeeshakspeare.com.

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