What is honor? This is the question Folger Theatre asks as it opens its 2019-2020 season with “1 Henry IV,” a classic play wrought with both intensity and hilarity.
The first in Shakespeare’s Henriad series of epic history plays, “1 Henry IV” is the coming-of-age story of Prince Hal, before he became Henry V. Torn between his father’s expectations and the tempting carefree life of his mentor Falstaff, Hal’s decision must play out against the backdrop of a growing civil war and a country in crisis.
In director Rosa Joshi’s Elizabethan era, the normally wood-paneled Folger Theatre becomes industrialized, with metal panels partially obscuring its columns, and scaffolding covering its surfaces. Joshi discards the trappings of the Elizabethan era in favor of a more timeless, almost post-apocalyptic setting, dressing King Henry and his court in crisp, cool-toned suits rather than lush royal regalia. Conversely, Eastcheap, the favorite haunt of Falstaff and his friends, seems warm and vibrant, its parties reminiscent of neon-lighted club raves. Original music from Palmer Hefferan cements these visual suggestions, intensifying scenes with the foreboding hum of a machine powering up, or playing up the lighthearted atmosphere with electronic dance music.
…a must-see for Shakespeare fans.
The centerpiece of the setting is Henry IV’s throne, emblazoned with a stylized “IV” that also appears on the military uniforms of the loyalists. The metallic throne doubles as a bed and a table at various times, cleverly reflecting the duality in all aspects of Hal’s life. When seated on the throne, Peter Crook as Henry IV seems perched atop it, uncomfortable with his position as he is with the unrest in his country.
Taking life lightly (and providing welcome comic relief) is Edward Gero’s Falstaff. Gero revels in the text’s inherent comedy, seeming at first a role model for Hal (Avery Whitted), but is outgrown in Act 2, his shirking of duty no longer charming. He plays off of a ragtag, yet charming group of outlaws, ranging from trickster Poins (Jazmine Stewart) to the endearingly slow Bardolph (a blushing Todd Scofield).
As Prince Hal, Avery Whitted deftly transforms from irresponsible young man at odds with his duty to a respected military leader, heir apparent not only to the throne but also to his father’s legacy of stoicism and uneasy rule. Whitted possesses a youthful, earnest energy that differentiates him from the serious royals. His happy-go-lucky style directly contrasts the quick-tempered Harry Percy, or Hotspur, played by an imposing Tyler Fauntleroy.
Though they share a name, Fauntleroy’s burning passion for his brother and his rebellion highlight Hal’s shortcomings, catalyzing the play’s final confrontation, a breathtaking resolution to rising confrontations, made better by U. Jonathan Troppo’s fast-paced fight choreography.
With modern elements and high energy, Joshi’s “1 Henry IV” is a must-see for Shakespeare fans, and a welcome introduction to the Bard’s histories for those new to them.
Advisory: Stage violence using swords.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“1 Henry IV” runs through October 13th at Folger Theatre, 201 E Capitol St NE, Washington, D.C. Purchase tickets online here or call the Box Office at (202) 544-7077.