Shakespeare Repertory Theatre
At Ruth Page Theatre, 1016 N. Dearborn
Tickets (312) 642-2273
Through May 2
For it's final production at Ruth Page, Shakespeare Repertory has taken on the formidable task of presenting both parts of Henry IV, which is a major undertaking. Shakespeare Repertory, which will become Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at the beginning of the next theatre season, and move into a beautiful new theatre at Navy Pier, has presented two evenings of theatre that deserve to be seen.
Henry IV, Part 1 is arguably one of Shakespeare's finest plays. It is a history play that is half tragedy, half bawdy comedy. The two elements are balanced masterfully in Part 1, while Part 2 is darker and less subtle. Henry IV has some of Shakespeare's most memorable characters, including the corpulent bawd Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal, Hotspur and Mistress Quickly. Director Barbara Gaines has treated these two plays with due reverence, and has, for the most part, crafted a solid production. Ms. Gaines has staged the production very well give the limitations of the Ruth Page theatre, and the battle scenes are very well choreographed.
As with most productions at Shakespeare Repertory, Ms. Gaines has concentrated on the text, and her devotion to the Folio method is admirable. Most of these actors speak the text well, and there is quite a bit of excellent acting. The problem with this production, as with most productions directed by Ms. Gaines, is that it is a little rough around the edges. Some of the best scenes in Part 1 take place in the Boar's Head Tavern, with Falstaff and Prince Hal exchanging playful barbs. These scenes are funny, but it is as if Ms. Gaines only concentrated on the actors who were speaking in the scene, leaving the rest of the actors on the fringe to do whatever they want. It's just not very consistent.
Taking this into account, the performances of the actors are what make these two plays worth seeing. Greg Vinkler's Falstaff is perfect. In him you see the surrogate father that Prince Hal desperately needs, balanced with the prideful bawd who will do anything for a free drink and a free meal. Kevin Gudahl, as Prince Hal, masterfully balances the lost youth and the proud Prince of Wales. His transformation from Prince to King Henry V late in Part 2 is masterful and very powerful. Larry Yando, who does a double turn as King Henry IV in both parts and Rumour at the beginning of Part 2, is a wonderfully guilt ridden warrior king. He is driven to keep his throne through a rebellion led by the ancestors of Richard II, who Henry killed to reach his throne. Other good performances are given by Joe Foust as Prince John, Lusia Strus as Mistress Quickly, Thomas Vincent Kelly as the violent Hotspur, and Robert Scogin's Worcester and Lord Chief Justice.
Given its limitations, by all means take the opportunity to see both parts of this play. It is so rare to see both of these plays staged in one theatre's season. If you only plan to see one part, see Part 1; it is the stronger of the two. If you plan to see both parts, you should see Part 1 before Part 2. If you can, take the time to see both. Seeing both parts of this play is quite a theatrical treat.