Henry IV’s reign isn’t going as planned. Instead of building his empire, his armies are focused on extinguishing rebellions led by those around him.
But 1 Henry IV isn’t really about its titular character. Instead young Prince Hal (future Henry V), his rotund sidekick Sir John Falstaff, and their adversary, Hotspur, dominate the action, literally and figuratively, in one of Shakespeare’s most popular histories.
Act I of 1 Henry IV finds Prince Hal eschewing his royal duties to hang with thieves, including the comical butt-of-all jokes, Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is played by four-time Helen Hayes award-winning Edward Gero, and after this production, I can understand why he’s raking in the awards. Gero delivers a fool, often caught in his own deceptions, with an expert level of poise and sincerity.
Harry Percy, or “Hotspur,” leads the rebellion against Henry IV. Played by Tyler Fauntleroy, a newcomer to DC’s theater scene, Hotspur was a standout among the cast, his anger palpable with the audience. While Shakespearean English came out of his mouth, Fauntleroy’s mannerisms and style reflected the modern, grittier setting.
At first glance, the set is austere – grey, industrial, with a foreboding throne dominating the stage. But once the house lights dim, the audience is greeted with the reverberating bass-like drumbeats of war, and an electric set.
This is the most transformed that I have seen the Folger Theatre, the product of Sara Ryung Clement’s scenic design genius and Jesse Belsky’s lighting prowess. The whimsical Globe aesthetic is replaced with metal scaffolding and halogen lights, including a ‘IV’ icon that poetically becomes ‘V’ as the performance ends. This urban setting is complemented by the power portrayed through the costuming designed by Kathleen Geldard.
Act II’s pinnacle is the battle, Lancaster vs. Percy. Prince Hal leads much of the action, brought up to snuff by his father (and who later goes on to be a skilled soldier for England). The hand to hand combat is well choreographed by Movement Director and Choreographer Alice Gosti, and no corner of the stage is left unscathed. While Percy’s death ends the battle, Henry IV’s war to protect his Crown is far from over.
Director Rosa Joshi stuns with this adaptation of 1 Henry IV, which can be seen at the Folger Theatre through October 13. Tickets are available online at www.folger.edu/theatre or by calling the Folger Box Office at 202-544-7077. Tickets range from $42-85.
Running time: Two hours and 50 minutes, including an intermission
Final Grade: A+