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1 Henry IV ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 10, 2019

With season opener 1 Henry IV, director Rosa Joshi makes her Folger Theatre directorial debut.  As expected it is a departure from the classic interpretation to an edgier contemporary dynamic.  As Joshi describes it, “I Henry IV is filled with intrigue, humor, action and suspense – messy people doing messy things under messy circumstances.”  And that suits the context, both in defining our current politics as well as society in general.

Falstaff (Edward Gero) holds court at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV. On stage at Folger Theatre, September 3 – October 13, 2019. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

As an exercise in sub rosa dastardly doings, mad scenes of revelry, and the royals’ intractable determination to use the church as their backup plan, it’s rollicking good fun.  Scenes of drunken nights at the pub interspersed with first-class plotting and the clickety-clack of swordplay serve as backdrop as Prince Hal tries to get back into the good graces of his authoritarian papa, King Henry IV, and at the same time trying to keep the lid on Falstaff, a dyspeptic thief and party animal who turns tail at the thought of a fight, while puffing up his image to anyone who’ll lend an ear.  He’s the epitome of a self-dealing scoundrel with some of the best throw down lines ever written.

Poins (Jazmine Stewart) puts a scare into her partner-in-crime Falstaff (Edward Gero), as Prince Hal (Avery Whitted) looks to ease the tension. C. Stanley Photography

Ed Gero plays Falstaff, a far cry from his award-winning role as the conservative Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, in The Originalist and, perhaps, even farther from his role as King Henry half a decade ago in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Henry IV.  Here Gero takes on the role of the loveable scallywag and crusty rogue interested in women and ale more than any rule of law that might reduce his formidable swagger.

King Henry IV (Peter Crook, right) shows great displeasure with his son, Prince Hal (Avery Whitted) in Shakespeare’s coming-of-age-tale 1 Henry IV. On stage at Folger Theatre, September 3 – October 13, 2019. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

No matter.  Young Hal adores his cantankerous Falstaff.  “That huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox,” Hal affectionately calls his surrogate father.  To prepare Hal for a visit with the king wherein Hal plans to reclaim his princely duties and pledge support in the king’s looming battle against the rebels, Falstaff pretends to be Hal’s father.  It’s here where Gero has the audience well in hand with his sendup of the king greeting his son.  Garbed in a red velvet pillow for a hat and swathed in a tablecloth for a robe, he is a marvelous and commanding comedic presence.

Mistress Quickly (Kate Eastwood Norris, right) sees to her patrons at the Boar’s Head Tavern (left to right: Todd Scofield as Bardolph, Sam Midwood as Peto, Edward Gero as Falstaff). C. Stanley Photography

Gero plunges expertly into the role of the hapless ne’er-do-well, as you might expect from this seasoned actor, yet it is Avery Whitted as Hal who brings balance, pace and a sharp sense of comedic timing to his character, and, more importantly, to the play itself.  I found myself drifting off into Shakespeare’s cadences, and the predictability of the script, until Whitted was in a scene.  Something about his buoyancy, craftsmanship, athleticism and ability to instantly anchor everyone around him, made him immensely entertaining to watch.

The cast of Folger Theatre’s 1 Henry IV (Peter Crook as King Henry IV at center). C. Stanley Photography

Also, notable and pleasurable to watch are three-time Helen Hayes Award winning actor Naomi Jackson as Worcester, Peter Crook as King Henry IV, and the delightful Kate Eastwood Norris in dual roles as Mistress Quickly and Vernon.

Scenic Design by Sara Ryung Clement; Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard; Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky; with Original Music and Sound Design by Palmer Heffernan.

Through October 13th at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or order online.  And be sure to follow the free new podcast, “Will & Our World” featuring talks on Shakespeare, his world, and talks with contemporary artists, authors and scholars of Shakespeare.

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