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Henry IV

His dominating performance illustrates why some scholars believe that "Henry IV, Part II" exists because of the popularity of the Falstaff character. Shakespeare, the theory goes, recognized a hot box-office draw and split the play, or decided to do a sequel that basically imitated the original.

His dominating performance illustrates why some scholars believe that “Henry IV, Part II” exists because of the popularity of the Falstaff character. Shakespeare, the theory goes, recognized a hot box-office draw and split the play, or decided to do a sequel that basically imitated the original.

Whatever the reason for the Bard using two works to tell the “Henry IV” saga, they are here compressed into one by Dakin Matthews’ adroit adaptation. The inferior second part is reduced to the third act, a two-and-one proportion that’s just about right. And most of Falstaff’s scenes and lines remain.

The main story, of course, is supposed to be the historical drama about the civil wars that plagued the reign of Henry IV, and how his son, Prince Hal, grew from a wild, dissolute youth into the heroic King Henry V. In making the transition to nobility, Hal rejects his former bad companions, chiefly the amoral, cowardly but always witty Falstaff.

To carry that plot, and to keep a prominent Falstaff from tilting the balance , any production of the play needs strong actors essaying Henry IV, Hal and their chief nemesis, the fiery warrior-leader Henry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur. O’Brien’s casting has mixed success.

Mark Harelik makes a terrific Hotspur, quick-tempered and physical, repeatedly pushing for action. The only worry about his high-pitched perf was a slight hoarseness that stirred concern as to whether his voice will hold up through the play’s five-week run.

David Lansbury, on the other hand, is too controlled as Prince Hal. Many of his speeches sound declamatory rather than heart-felt, and he makes Hal seem to be distancing himself from Falstaff even when they’re supposed to be great drinking buddies.

In the title role, Richard Easton at first relies too much on his vocal skills. When his body language matches, as in the scenes where he ebbs toward death, he’s sympathetic and involving.

Another Globe regular, Jonathan McMurtry, delights as Justice Shallow, whose musings on the past and death drive Falstaff to drink even more than usual.

O’Brien moves the large cast, filled with many of the young Globe Players, all over the Festival Theater stage and beyond, including action and speeches in the aisles. He takes great advantage of Ralph Funicello’s fine wooden pillars-and-platforms set, using stairways, trapdoors and wall openings to suggest everything from bordellos to battle sites.

With the play starting at 7:30, O’Brien has decided to follow the daylight-to-dark transition in costuming and lighting. Early scenes are played in contemporary clothes, with the cast gradually switching to 15th-century garb. Costumer Lewis Brown makes it all look natural.

Like the set, Michael Gilliam’s lighting is heavily monochromatic brown, using torchlight scenes nicely in the flow toward night. Jeff Ladman’s sound is subtle, featuring music to presage scenes and a song from composer Larry Delinger. Dan Speaker’s fight choreography contributes to a rousing battle scene.

Henry IV

(Lowell Davies Festival Theater, San Diego; 612 seats; $ 36 top)

  • Production: A three-act adaptation by Dakin Matthews of two William Shakespeare historical dramas, produced by Old Globe Theater. Director, Jack O'Brien; scenic design, Ralph Funicello; costume design, Lewis Brown; lighting, Michael Gilliam; sound, Jeff Ladman; composer, Larry Delinger; fight choreography, Dan Speaker; vocal/dialect coach, Claudia Hill. Opened and reviewed July 1, 1995; runs through Aug. 5. Running time: 3 hours, 45 min. #Cast: Richard Easton, David Lansbury, Michael Brandt, Henry J. Jordan, James R. Winker, Vaughn Armstrong, Dakin Matthews, Katherine McGrath, Mark Harelik, Erika Rolfsrud, James Joseph O'Neil, Russell Edge, Melissa Friedman, John Worley, David Natale, Leonard Stewart, Jonathan McMurtry, Eric Almquist, John Goodman, Steve Rankin, Don Sparks, Christopher Whenry, Mark Hill, Anna Cody, Crystal Allen, Tracey Atkins, Scott Eberlein, Scott Ferrara, Paul Fitzgerald, Andee Mason, Lina Patel, David Prentiss, Henny Russell. Falstaff and John Goodman. The character and the actor go together like Roseanne and controversy. Such propitious casting was inevitable, so kudos to the Old Globe and director Jack O'Brien for getting there first and bringing working-class TV hero Dan Conner back to the stage after eight years. Goodman rollicks through the role, bodily and comically fulfilling most of its gargantuan demands as comfortably as if Shakespeare had written it for him. He's equally at home with the rhythms of the Bard's lines or when waving a ham as a weapon, then retreating from a fight with filled pants.
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