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King Henry IV: The Shadow of Succession

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King Henry IV: The Shadow of Succession, Court Theatre. Stark white lighting on a stage bare except for one severe Quaker chair, where a cadaverous king sits and laments in sepulchral tones distorted by artificial-echo amplification. Peter Sellars directing Endgame? No, it's Court Theatre's King Henry IV: The Shadow of Succession, a "reinterpretation" of Shakespeare's two Henry IV plays. Adapters David Bevington and Charles Newell have created a "Hal N the Hood" soaper: Will the teenage golden boy choose to run with his hoodlum homeys? Or will he assume command of the family business? Newell directs with an eye to electronically enhanced moments at the expense of Shakespeare's text.

Taking exception to the concept are John Reeger and William Brown, two actors who could find a subtext in a traffic bulletin: they give the patriarchal roles of Henry and Falstaff intelligence and dignity to spare, Brown at times in oddly unclassical accents (though the "yonda lies da castle of my faddah" award goes to Josh Stamberg, whose Hotspur is pathetically unfocused). As the ambivalent Hal, sweet-faced Raymond Fox manages--barely--to keep pace with Reeger and Brown. The supporting players struggle to create coherent characters but rarely come off as more than artfully arranged set dressing.

Though running nowhere near the four hours of Sellars's Merchant of Venice, Bevington and Newell's Henry resembles that production in that any single moment out of the chaos could be frozen into an impressive photograph or sound bite. But a show that documents better than it plays will succeed only with those who weren't around to witness it firsthand. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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