Brave Spirits’ two-year repertory of Shakespeare’s history cycle continues with an impressively lively production of one of the Bard’s more challenging plays, Henry the Fourth, Part 2.
After Part 1 fell a bit short on delivering the expected thrills and energy from a superior script, Part 2 reassures me that matters are well in hand. The production benefits greatly from Charlene Smith’s intelligent, inventive direction as well as strong performances, particularly Ian Blackwell Rogers’ Falstaff.
As noted in my review of a previous production of Part 2, Part 1 has a lot more to offer in terms of visceral thrills. Part 2 is more contemplative and autumnal as Falstaff holds tighter to memories of past glories, Northumberland mourns Hotspur, the last dregs of rebellion are tamped out – for the moment at least – and King Henry nears the grave. All indeed have heard the chimes at midnight.
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And as experienced in said prior production, a strong hand is needed at the rudder to avoid a tedious evening. Charlene Smith and her team are equal to the task from the opening moment of Rumour’s prologue to the final blackout. As much as one may claim that the text is all, it certainly helps to have clever staging and a firm directorial vision; to make a potentially funereal script sparkle with life is a remarkable achievement.
A largely superb ensemble also helps. As noted above, this is largely Falstaff’s play, and Ian Blackwell Rogers delivers a complex, vulnerable dimension belying his boisterousness. Cast against type physically, he’s more a medieval Hugh Hefner than a resurrected Orson Welles. I appreciate Kristin Ahern’s costume change for Falstaff from part one to part two, moving from a would-be dashing rogue in a paisley robe (Hef again) to an oversized loud-patterned cardigan, emphasizing the passing of time. Rogers’s physicality likewise adjusts from aging in part one, to aged in part two.
Henry the Fourth, Part 2 closes April 19, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
Gary DuBreuil’s return to the ensemble is most welcome, Annette Mooney likewise. Tom Howley, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Dean Carlson, and Michael Bannigan Jr have provided consistently impressive and varied performances throughout these three plays, as do Brianna Goode and Caroline Johnson.
As Henry and Hal respectively, John Stange and Brendan Edward Kennedy come across comparatively muted, although their reconciliation scene is well realized, and Stange’s larger-than-life Pistol is a hoot. Kennedy doesn’t show his hand, so to speak, keeping Hal’s emotions rather enigmatic, so we aren’t really able to take his early complaint of “exceeding weariness” nor his repudiation of Falstaff at face value.
As with most small professional companies there is variation, and as with most repertory casts we see strong actors biding time in largely thankless roles (I look forward to Nicole Ruthmarie’s Princess Katherine).
The first half of Brave Spirits’ repertory concludes next month with Henry V, which I look forward to with relish. Falstaff, of course, will be missed, but then there’s the siege of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt, and the wooing of Katherine.
Henry the Fourth Part 2, written by William Shakespeare, directed by Charlene V Smith. Cast: Michael Bannigan Jr, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Dean Carlson, Gary DuBreuil, Brianna Goode, Lisa Hill-Corley, Tom Howley, Caroline Johnson, Brendan Edward Kennedy, Annette Mooney, Jillian Riti, Ian Blackwell Rogers, Nicole Ruthmarie, John Stange. Dramaturg: Emily MacLeod. Fight Director: Casey Kaleba. Intimacy Choreographer: Megan Behm. Movement Director: Amanda Forstrom. Composer / Music Director: Jordan Friend. Clowning: Ryan Musil. Assistant Stage Manager: Abi Franklin. Costume Designer: Kristen P Ahern. Set Designer: Megan Holden. Lighting Designer: Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Makeup Designer: Hannah Fogler. Properties Designer: Caolan Eder. Dialect Coach: Jenna Berk. Production Stage Manager: Jen Katz. Produced by Brave Spirits Theatre. Review by John Geoffrion.