Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Henry IV, Part 2
Rather than relying on a traditional production team, the talented ensemble designed and directed the entire production themselves in just a few days. PSF calls this process "Extreme Shakespeare" and it simulates the way Shakespeare's own company would have staged the production about 425 years ago. I was initially concerned that the process was more gimmick than substantive artistic choice, but the production had an easy humor and dynamic feel that could be attributed to the improvisational nature of the "extreme" process.
Henry IV, Part 2 continues the story of King Henry IV's reign and the challenges he faces in maintaining his kingdom. The play primarily focuses on the aging king's declining health, the rise of rebellion against the king, and Falstaff's misguided shenanigans in the London underworld. Prince Hal, the king's son and heir to the throne, undergoes a transformation as he confronts his responsibilities and prepares to assume the crown.
Jim Ireland had an appropriately royal gravitas as King Henry. Ireland depicted the king's declining health as a series of small and increasingly serious strokes. It was an effective and unsettling choice. The king's oldest son Prince Hal was played with a balance of boldness and frustration by Eli Lynn. In one of the best performances of the production, Lynn's made Hal's unexpected evolution compelling and emotionally resonant.
John Ahlin was every inch the buffoonish rouge as he reprised the role of Falstaff from Part 1. Ahlin and his motley crew got a lot of laughs that kept the production from feeling too slow or serious, but the funniest performances of the night came from the witty Kimberly Gilbert as Mistress Quickly and the wonderfully bawdy Taylor Congdon as Doll Tearsheet.
Through a mixture of political intrigue, personal relationships, and introspection, Henry IV, Part 2 presents a complex and layered examination of power, loyalty, and the burden of leadership in turbulent times. PSF's solid production nailed both the serious political side of the story as well as the humorous exploits of London's petty thieves and sneaky criminals. It was a solid start to their season and I am looking forward to what comes next.
Henry IV, Part 2 ran through through June 11 in the Schubert Theatre at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of DeSales University, Center Valley PA. For information, please visit pashakespeare.org.