By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Reviewer
Folger Theatre’s “Henry IV Part 1” (“1 Henry IV”) has two extremely different acts. Act I is hilariously funny with Ed Gero as Falstaff behaving altogether believably, but outrageously. Act II is extremely contentious and a little terrifying with the killing of the ill-tempered Hotspur (Tyler Fauntleroy) by his cousin, Prince Hal (the sexy and adorable Avery Whitted), and with Hal saving the King’s (the elegant Peter Crook’s) life. Did you get it? Believe me, it gets a lot more complicated!
“How,” you say? Well, Worcester, the king’s brother, is played by the indominable Naomi Jacobson, and Jazmine Stewart brings it as Ned Poins, Hal’s companion, which is generally a male role. Kate Eastwood Norris plays both long-suffering Mistress Quickly, who presumably, with her husband, runs the Boar’s Head tavern frequented by Sir Falstaff and his gang of miscreants–and she portrays Vernon, one of the rebels who seeks to overthrow the King. See?
But wait, don’t leave me yet…it gets easier to understand and enjoy as the play unfolds. Truly. It was a great pleasure to see/hear such skilled and talented actors make Shakespeare’s language sound conversational, easy to understand and even contemporary with the unwritten pauses, emphasis, grunts, facial expressions and the like that constitute Shakespearean acting. That skill combined with the masterful directing ability of Rosa Joshi and the other creative people associated with this amazing production, such as Alice Gosti, movement director and choreographer, Sara Ryung Clement, scenic design, Palmer Heffernan, original music and sound design, as well as Jesse Belsky, lighting design. They all bring this production to thumping, neon-outlined life! And, spoiler alert: the stage is washed in fabulous red lighting for pointed emphasis, but my favorite moment was the end when the huge neon IV becomes V and the spotlight comes to rest on Prince Hal. Get it? Of course you do! Oh, my!
There are lots of wonderful actors in this production including Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, who plays Blunt and Mortimer, both to perfection! Ebrahimizadeh is an actor’s actor! I never tire of seeing him morph into the different roles he plays. And Peter Crook as King Henry is as confused, sad, loving, angry, and as perplexed as any dad would be when he sees his son appearing to become a ne’er-do-well just like his surrogate dad and dear friend, Falstaff. All the King wants is for his son to be like Hotspur and crave attention and want the crown. Of course, King Henry doesn’t suspect that Hotspur will turn on him and try his best to overthrow his throne! When Prince Hal suddenly comes to his senses and rushes to his dad’s aid, saving his life, all King Henry’s fears dissolve and you see him soften before your eyes. AND all the while you see Hal begin his metamorphosis into a patriot and loving son. Beautiful.
Other favorite moments: the tavern scenes in the first act with Ed Gero, Falstaff, and Avery Whitted, Prince Hal, who together offer a graduate-level course in Elizabethan insults, led by Falstaff, of course! But my true favorite memories of this production are the themes of fathers and sons and Hal’s progress from prodigal son to patriot to a true son of the King to hero! All in all, Folger Theatre’s “I Henry IV” is a tremendously satisfying and heroic production!
Performance and Ticket Information: “I Henry IV” is on stage from now through October 13, 2019. Running time is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission. Tickets may be purchased from the Folger Theatre Box Office at 202-544-7077 or online at www.folger.edu/theatre.