Henry IV, Part I
The Pearl Theatre
Productions of Shakespeare's historical dramedy live or die on the rapport between Prince Hal and Falstaff, and luckily, delightfully, the one on view at the Pearl through St. Patrick's Day is warm and mirthful. John Brummer plays the future king, a rowdy young man (dressed here James Deanly in jeans, white tee and leather jacket) typically fallen in with a bad crowd, led by the famously portly and flatulent "misleader of youth," played with witty aloofness by Dan Daily. These two actors, with the rest of their merry band of thieves, play their pre-intermission scenes—predominantly games and pranks—with alluring laughter and good nature; you've never heard so many fat jokes: "How long is’t ago, Jack, since thou sawest thine own knee?"; "Falstaff sweats to death, And lards the lean earth as he walks along"; "These lies are like their father that begets them; gross as a mountain."
When this production comes to life, it does so blazingly, including its energetic battle scenes. But director Davis McCallum (off a recent success with Water by the Spoonful) doesn't seem to know what to do about the play's central problem: that its comedy is stitched into a royal drama, and its two halves need to be reconciled. The former is far more compelling than the latter, which McCallum seems to know: this production opens not with the text's pallid speech by King Henry but with a tavern song, a stomp sung and danced by the Pearl's resident company; the show ends with Falstaff in spotlight puffing a cigar. McCallum doesn't do much to solve the problem, though; in fact, he mostly ignores it but for the casting of the scenery-chewing Shawn Fagan as Hotspur, who at least shouts loudly enough to keep your attention. The soap operatic dramas at court, the reports of war, the political conspiracy and machinations, the bloodline rivalries: all feel listless, like dutiful exposition to get us to Part II and Henry V thereafter—or, just like time to kill until we can be with Hal and Falstaff again, laughing with and at them.
Photo by Phillis Kwentoh