Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The 2014 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Henry IV Part One

Background Info:
I visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during the preview week of its 2014 season, watching the second preview show for each of the six plays.  I will be posting my reviews all week on this blog.  I will link my reviews as they become public.
A Comedy of Errors on 6/29/14
Twelfth Night on 6/30/14
Measure For Measure on 7/2/14
Sense and Sensibility on 7/3/14
Into The Woods on 7/4/14
Why go to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on 7/5/14
Unless otherwise noted, all photos used will be from the festival website, bard.org.  Also, all information regarding tickets, seminars, tours, and classes for college credit is available there.

Remember to click on all photos in this post to enlarge them.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is doing what they call Complete the Cannon, or doing ALL of the Bard's plays in 12 years.  For part of this project, they are doing the history plays in their historical order, rather than in the order that Shakespeare wrote them.  Thus, repeat festival goers are getting a good course on English history. :)
The festival is now half-way into the Henriad tetralogy, or the four plays that cover Henry IV and his son.  Last year was King Richard II, a hard-to-like play wherein a young Henry is exiled, while Richard II, in debt over wars with the Irish, confiscates his land.  Henry returns to claim his land and ends up deposing the king and having him "done away with," thus becoming king himself.
In Henry IV part one, Henry is an insecure king.  The Welsh and the Scots are attacking the borders of the land, and his own nobles are rebelling after realizing that if they got rid of Richard, they can also get rid of Henry.  Plus, Henry's young son, Prince Henry, who is called Hal so the audience doesn't go nuts trying to keep all the Henrys straight, is being very much the party animal, hanging out in taverns with prostitutes and the with rogue John Falstaff.  Henry would like to swap his son Hal with Henry Percy, called Hotspur after his temper and to lessen the confusion, as Hotspur is quite the valiant warrior.  This all changes, of course, when Hotspur joins the Welsh and the Scots in trying to overthrow Henry and Prince Hal decides to honor his father and fight.

Normally, Shakespeare's history plays are the sort that scare off the uninitiated to his plays, but this history play isn't that way.  It's not confusing, for one thing.  And it has a little bit of everything.
There's a  fabulous sword fight.  There's deception.  There's humor.   There's a sweet scene of tenderness when the Welshman must leave his wife.  Really, it's just all there.  No matter what sort of thing you like in a play, you're going to find some of it in Henry IV part one, especially in this version, which is directed by the superb actor Brian Vaughn, who is one of the co-artistic directors of the whole Festival.
One of the big strengths is in the casting.  The same actors have been/will be playing the major roles for the whole tetralogy.  Thus, Larry Bull played Henry last year in Richard II, plays him this year in Henry IV part one, and will play him next year in Henry IV part two, while Sam Ashdown plays Prince Hal now and next year and then will be the king in Henry V in two years' time.  Clever.  Very clever.
The young Ashdown is superb.  He is so convincing in all his emotions that it's sort of hard to imagine him as a person other than Hal.
Also, he's definitely appealing to females old enough to have hormones.  *smirks*  
Just have a look here:
Oh my.  :D

That's Henry Woronicz with Ashdown.  Woronicz played Prospero in last year's The Tempest, which was the highlight of the 2013 festival.  He is a fabulous and convincing Falstaff, not a sad character, the way he's often portrayed, but a man who is wise enough to value life above honor, not ready to throw away all that he has for the sake of going out in a blaze of young man's glory.  His escapades with Hal bring the humor to the play.

And then there's Steve Wojtas playing Hotspur:

This young man definitely plays The Angry Young Man bit very, very well.  He is so very good that he makes viewer tense.  Hotspur is the opposite of Falstaff; he's young, fiery, and all about honor -- which will cost him his life.
This version of Henry IV part one is near perfection.  (Really, my only complaint was that Douglas' kilt was too long and looked like a skirt.  That was it.)  If you are a Shakespeare fan, you will love this.  And if you're a newbie, you might very well like it anyway.  The acting is incredible, the costuming is great (except for that kilt), the set works well.  It's just a dang good play.
Go see it.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, you mean you don't like long kilts? ;) I love going to plays, but yet to see a Shakespeare one. He's a lucky man to have the drive and love of writing at such an explosive time in his era, wouldn't you agree?

    Thanks for dropping by my blog and for your thoughtful comment!