Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Henry IV and Henry V
Kierst was too modest, however, about the incisiveness of his own adaptations. He is a longtime student of Shakespearean plays, and I saw him direct and play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at the old Vortex Theatre a few years back. In The Henry Project, he takes Portia's cross-dressing two steps further: some of the traditionally male characters are played by women, and some of the pronouns are changed to reflect this gender-blind casting. The Duke of York (Kristin Elliott), Ned Pistol (Augusta Allen-Jones), Montjoy (Samantha Owner), and assorted earls and soldiers, for example, are played by women. The King of France in Henry V becomes the Queen of France (Barbara Geary) and is addressed as "our sister." The Dauphin (Sheridan Johnson) is female.
Pay attention: Shakespeare is for everybody.
The large cast acquit themselves with spirit and energy. Paul Ford is every inch the embattled King Henry IV, bringing an anguish and inner conflict to the role that made me wonder if I'd missed the prequel. (I hadn't; the first play of Shakespeare's Henriad, Richard II, had a production at North 4th Theatre produced by The American Shakespeare Project.)
Joe Damour as the Duke of Exeter in both plays cuts a dashing figure and embodies a consigliere for the ages: seasoned and wise, loyal but no dog to the king. Martin Andrews as Harry Percy, the "Hotspur" of fame who finds fighting the only thing worth doing, is a fine foil to Prince Hal (Quinn Mander). There's a nice touch in Scott Sharot's broad Scots burr in the role of Owen Glendower; the other actors in general do not try for British accents, and that works, too, with the distinctly American style of direction.
The centerpiece of both plays, of course, is Prince Hal who becomes Henry V. Dissolute and irresponsible, he spurns his royal father to hang around with Mistress Quickly (Barbara Geary) and her tavern toads Sir John Falstaff (Charles Fisher), Ned Pistol (Augusta Allen-Jones), Poins (Harry Zimmerman), and Bardolph (Jonathan Tyrrell).
Mander is superb as Prince Hal. He is a gracious actor who is part of the ensemble until he asserts himself, and in this way we see the character grow into his eventual role as Henry V. Even when Hal and Pistol are playing puerile tricks on Falstaff, his bearing and speech somehow remind us that he is the Prince of Wales. His father and brother, Prince John of Lancaster (Galen Hutchison), believe Hal to be callow and degenerate. This royal character has a lot to prove. The actor lives up to the challenge.
An audience favorite is the scene in Henry V in which he "proposes" to Princess Catharine of France (Caroline Patz, at her most beguiling). Mander's matter-of-fact delivery reminds us that this marriage is a done dealHenry V has just won at Agincourt, he is now King of England and France, and the princess is part of the bargain. Yet the cosseted Catharine doesn't get it. Her clueless air contrasts with Henry's "let's get this bit over with" to hilarious effect.
The great comedic character Sir John Falstaff is not a favorite of mine, but he was so popular with the crowd of Shakespeare's time that he appears in Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and he is mentioned in Henry V. Actor Charles Fisher gives a master class in how to play Falstaff. Without ever tipping over into buffoonery, he illustrates the false knight's laughable and loathsome qualities. Falstaff truly believes that his buddy Hal will drag him up to heights of fame and riches; moreover, Falstaff believes he deserves this elevation. His ego deludes him in this world of ironclad castes and kings.
Hats off to The Happy Few, nine actors who frame the action with mini-characterizations, dramatic words, and a meticulous regard for where to enter and exit.
Just a word about the set: I appreciate the spareness of the platform stage and the heavy crown that hangs over it all, as well as the good effect to which the stage is put. The multimedia screens place us firmly where the action is taking place: in the palace, on the battlefield, at the tavern. And the wooden railings around the seats made me feel as if I were at The Globe. Nicely done.
The Henry Project is Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 (combined into a single play) playing for five weeks in repertory with Henry V. Both adaptations are by Peter Shea Kierst.
The Henry Project, through December 4, 2016, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE. Friday-Saturday 7:30pm; Sunday 2 pm. Tickets: $22. For tickets and information, call 505-247-8600 or visit vortexabq.org.
Extra performance information: For Henry IV, a Pay What You Will performance will be held on Saturday, November 26 at 7:30pm; and a talkback will be held on December 4. For Henry V, a Pay What You Will performance will be held on Sunday, November 27 at 2:00pm and a talkback at the same performance.