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Henry IV

Shakespeare Festival Saint Louis, 2014

Chris Gibson – Broadway World

Since the stories and cast of Henry IV (pts. 1 & 2) and Henry V intertwine, it’s only fitting that I review Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ marvelous productions together. The shows will alternate (every evening except Tuesdays), and there will be special performances the next two weekends where both plays will be performed back to back. It’s an amazing feat and since it’s free to the public there’s no reason not to pack up the whole family for a trip to Forest Park to check out these entertaining history lessons. Artistic Director Rick Dildine has put together an experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s truly a triumph.

Prince Hal is heir to the throne of England, but he spends his time in the company of corpulent rascal John Falstaff, unconcerned with matters of state. Meanwhile the Percy family is less than satisfied with King Henry IV’s reign and assembles a rebel forth to overthrow him. The prince finally decides to grow up, and in battle he defeats Hotspur (Henry Percy).

Henry V finds the Prince Hal in power, and guided by the convolutions of the Archbishop of Canterbury he decides to lay claim to France. This is one of the few Shakespearean histories that finds England on the offensive. And, though they’re out manned, Henry V rouses them to action and eventual victory.

Jim Butz gives a terrific performance as Prince Hal/Henry V, deftly conveying the maturation that occurs as he puts aside the follies of youth to become a powerful leader of his kingdom. Michael James Reed also does splendid work as both King Henry IV and Henry V’s uncle. Charles Pasternak is memorable as Hotspur, bounding about the stage with reckless abandon. Tony DeBruno is delightful as Falstaff, and the conflation of Henry IV (pts. 1 & 2) takes the opportunity to showcase one of Shakespeare’s truly amusing characters. The entire supporting cast does really special work, sometimes portraying multiple characters in both of the plays.

Directors Tim Ocel (Henry IV) and Bruce Longworth (Henry V) guide each production with steady and sure hands. There is a definite balance struck between drama and humor that pays off in each work. Scott C. Neale’s scenic design may seem deceptively simple, but the open spaces and many levels allow it to work well for both plays. Paul Dennhardt’s fight choreography is nicely realized, as is the lighting schemes of Matthew Lealon Young (Henry IV) and John Wylie (Henry V). Greg Coffin’s compositions give the productions a real sense of weight, and Dottie Marshall Englis’ costumes act to delineate all the characters, which is especially important given the many roles some of the cast members take on.

Don’t miss Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ dynamic and brilliant productions of Henry IV (pts. 1 & 2) and Henry V. This once in a lifetime occurrence continues through June 15, 2014.

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