Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2



HENRY IV, PARTS 1 AND 2, Shakespeare Repertory Theater. With vaulting ambition, Shakespeare Rep devotes the remainder of its season to rotating repertory. Taking the risk was right: Parts 1 and 2 of Henry IV are intricately related. In Part 1, Henry IV is haunted by having usurped the throne and defends his ill-gotten realm against a revolt headed by the fiery Hotspur. In the second part, reconciliation replaces animosity and Prince Hal earns the right to become Henry V. Both father and son go wrong by seeking surrogates for each other. Hotspur is the ultimate warrior, the son the king prefers to dissolute Hal. And Hal seemingly squanders his youth and reputation cavorting with the fat and foolish knight Falstaff, a permissive substitute for his stern, troubled father.

Shakespeare confidently portrays both the intrigues of the court and the revelry of the Boar's Head Tavern. The plays deliver epic generosity; Shakespeare Rep returns the gift with precision and gusto. Unlike David Bevington's 1996 Court Theatre adaptation, Henry IV: The Shadow of Succession, Barbara Gaines's period staging provides the sprawling whole; it's a straightforward telling of an untwisted plot. Despite the distraction of anachronistic neon lighting, acting takes precedence here: the magnificently cadenced noble speeches and X-rated raillery are delivered with equal ardor.

Beset by mounting miseries, Larry Yando's king is at every moment the uneasy head beneath the crown. Kevin Gudahl exerts tensile control over Hal's diametrically opposed private and public selves; it's no surprise when he discards his "evil angel" Falstaff. Greg Vinkler gives this rascal a pathos that never undermines his contagious humor; despite Falstaff's monumental corruption, this sinner has soul to spare. Thomas Vincent Kelly shrewdly plays Hotspur with more petulance than rage, exposing the sheer goofiness of excess valor.

As always with Shakespeare Rep, the supporting players are sterling. Especially notable are Patrick Clear's endearing Justice Shallow, Robert Scogin's noble chief justice, and Lusia Strus's happy harpy of a hostess.

--Lawrence Bommer

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