St. John's 'Henry Iv' Doesn't Insult The Bard

Some Hits, Some Misses, Some Fun And Poetic

January 30, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Stories of betrayal are not the exclusive province of soap-operas and prime-time TV. "Dallas" and "Dynasty" have nothing on Shakespeare, as a go-round with the Bard's "Henry IV, Pt. II" indicates.

The second installment of Shakespeare's 10-act chronicle of the tumultuous times of Henry of Bolingbroke was performed Saturday by the King William Players of St. John's College.

The reign of Henry, who deposed the ill-fated King Richard II, was beset by factional strife from the get-go. "Henry IV, Pt. II" is anintense story of dashed expectations and mirrors the depressing tenor of the times it dramatizes.

As the exhausted monarch lies on his deathbed, his double-crossers are themselves double-crossed in Gaultree Forest.

"I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers," says the newly crowned Henry V to Sir John Falstaff, who is presumptuous enough to expect gratitude from his ascending sovereign.

In the 15thcentury, who knew from loyalty?

College theater Shakespeare posesthe same difficulty as other amateur endeavors. Should the company'sartistic sights be lowered or should the company accept the La Manchan challenge and reach for the unreachable star?

Usually, discretion is the better part of valor as innumerable productions of "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Grease" and scaled-down arrangements of Tchaikovsky's "Marche Slave" attest.

But the King William Players went after the big one last weekend, and actors and audience went home the betterfor it, I'd say.

It was fitful Shakespeare to be sure; sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

This dedicated cast was able to communicate that extraordinary synthesis of drama and poetry that has made the Bard such boffo box office for many centuries.

Dominating the proceedings was Jonathan Tuck's Falstaff; corpulent, robust, imposing, funny and alive.

The Act II, Scene II interaction between Prince Hal (the eventual Henry V) and his friend Poins provided the best interactive Shakespeare of the evening.

The conversation flowed from the stage as smartly paced, beautifully articulated and poetically drawn as it had from the master's pen.

Douglas Allanbrook's poetic sense brought to the title character a contemplative melancholy that enhanced Henry's eloquence.

The Gloucestershire crowd was great fun to watch, especially Robert Williamson as Justice Shallow and Malcolm Wyatt as a delightfully tipsy Justice Silence.

What ultimately failed the play were weaknesses among Henry's adherents, the rebels, etc.

Some actors recited the poetry well enough, but failed tocreate flesh and blood characters in the process.

Others proved more dramatic than poetic, while several unfortunate players were lacking in both departments, which made for some uncomfortably uneventfulmoments, particularly among Henry's followers.

Save for a few extended scene changes, the production ran smoothly enough, with costuming and sets contributing to the dramatic cause.

While Joseph Papp is not going to be in any rush to engage the entire company of "HenryIV, Pt. II," this labor of love was anything but lost.

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