Outstanding performances and a stylish contemporary design distinguish The Antaeus Company’s 2015 season opener, William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One. A hefty three-hour running time may test the patience of those for whom “90 Minutes No intermission” are the sweetest four words ever heard, but Bard fans will definitely feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth with this one.
Anateus Company “partner casting” means two entirely different ensembles—The Rogues and The Knaves—alternating Saturday and Sunday performances, with Thursday/Friday mash-ups of the two casts calling themselves The Quicklys.
The Thursday performance reviewed here was 75% Knaves, its three Rogues in relatively minor roles, so for anyone opting to see The Knaves, nine of those mentioned in this review (all but Elizabeth Dennehy, Tro Shaw, and Marcelo Tubert) will be onstage.
Knave Michael Kirby stars as Prince Hal, heir to the English thrown, who’d rather while away the hours at the tavern run by Mistress Quickly (Dennehy) with debauched drunkard Falstaff (Stephen Caffrey) and Falstaff’s entourage by his side than be the obedient son of King Henry (Joel Swetow).
Not that Henry doesn’t have more on his mind than a wayward son. Hal’s rival Hotspur (Joe Holt) is out there plotting rebellion against the monarch alongside Hotspur’s father Northumberland (Tubert) and his uncle Worcester (Bo Foxworth).
With England’s very future at stake, Hal finds himself with no other option than to join forces with his royal progenitor at the climactic Battle Of Shrewsbury, a duel to the death in which only Hal or Hotspur can end up victorious.
Those fearing a mere history lesson can rest assured that Henry IV, Part One is far more Falstaff’s show than Henry’s (or even Hal’s), and Caffrey plays the rotund, bombastic, lily-livered buffoon with the best of them.
Dynamic boy-next-door Kirby gives the evening’s other standout performance in a role that allows him to bridge the play’s two extremes—the dramatic realism of scenes involving English royals and the Farrelly Brothers-style comedy of those taking place at Mistress Quickly’s. (Let’s not forget that Falstaff himself bridged Shakespeare’s histories [both Henrys] and comedies [The Merry Wives Of Windsor].)
Under Michael Murray’s incisive direction, Sweetow’s towering King Henry and Holt’s charismatic Hotspur do particularly fine work as well.
Everyone else gets to play two, three, or even four roles, hair, glasses, and accents among the actors’ tools allowing them and us to distinguish between characters.
Mark Bramhall (Westmoreland, Glendower, 1st Traveler), Dennehey (Quickly, Vernon, 2nd Traveler), Foxworth (Worcester, Sheriff), Jesse Gavin (Poins, Doublas, Aide), Sally Hughes (Lady Percy, 1st Carrier), Shaw (Gadshill, Lady Mortimer, Messenger), Jeff Torres (Blunt, Mortimer, Peto, 2nd Carrier), and Tubert (Northumberland, Bardolph, Chamberlain) complete the cast to (occasionally gender-bending) perfection.
(Not appearing at the performance reviewed were Rhonda Aldrich, Tony Amendola, Daniel Bess, Mitchell Edmonds, Joe Hulser, Desirée Mee Jung, Ramón de Ocampo, Gregrory Itzin, Adam J. Smith, James Sutorius, Danielle Thorpe, and Jason Turner.)
Not surprisingly design credits rank high among reasons to recommend the latest from Antaeus. François-Pierre Couture’s stark, dramatic scenic design, Terri A. Lewis’s stunning modern costumes (and Falstaff’s appropriately slovenly duds), Michael Gend’s exciting lighting, Adam Meyer’s eclectic props (including requisite swords), and above all sound designer Peter Baynes’ pulsating original music make for as thrillingly designed a production as you’ll see on any stage large or small.
Additional deserved program credits go to Ken Merckx (fight choreographer) and Marc Leclerc (assistant fight choreographer) and above all to production stage manager/wardrobe mistress Kristin Weber.
Rachel Berney Needleman and Maureen Lee Lenker are assistant directors.
Emily Lehrer is assistant stage manager and Anne Kelly rehearsal assistant stage manager.
Credits go too to Meyer (master electrician, production manager, and technical director), Grove Scenery (set construction), Armin Shimerman (dramaturg), and Canon Ian Davies (Welsh language coach). TV star (and Antaeus company member) Seamus Dever has recorded the production’s curtain speech.
The Antaeus Company moves from Elizabethan England to Eisenhower-era America with their upcoming summer production of William Inge’s Picnic, and this reviewer for one cannot wait for June to arrive.
In the meantime, there’s Henry IV, Part One, with Antaeus Company Ensemble (and A2) members doing what they do best, performing brilliantly for one of the shining jewels of L.A.’s recklessly endangered 99-seat plan.
The Antaeus Company, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
March 19, 2015
Photos: Geoffrey Wade Photography