Part comedy, part historical drama, Henry IV Part I picks up after Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke, the usurper from Richard II, is back, only now he’s King Henry IV (William Broderick), and his claim to the throne is being challenged by his rivals. This debate as to who is the rightful king wages on for the next five or six installments of Shakespeare’s history plays, and is by no means settled by the end of Henry IV Part I. The real story of this play is Henry IV’s troubles with his son, Prince Hal (Zack Calhoon), who will one day grow up to be King Henry V and deliver that kick-ass St. Crispin’s Day speech. But at the start of Henry IV, Hal is just some punk kid who hangs around with his slacker buddy Sir John Falstaff. This play also is notable for introducing the character of Falstaff, the drunken, cowardly, greedy knight (played excellently in this production by Ron Sanborn), who was so popular in the Henrys that he got his own play, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The Boomerang Theatre Company set Henry IV in the present day, with the title character in a presidential blue suit, and his court dressed in military uniforms. Rival factions for the throne wore uniforms of the same style, but different colors, and the Scottish characters like Dowglas (wonderfully performed by Phillip Emeott with a straight-faced “Groundskeeper Willy” accent) wore bits of tartan on their uniforms. While costumed for the modern era by Sidney J. Shannon, the weapons used in the fight scenes were medieval/renaissance quarterstaves, rapiers, long swords, and dirks. Stage combat was elaborately choreographed by Andrew Blasenak, with up to eight characters duking it out onstage at once and leaving behind a stage littered with dead bodies. Sadly, the combat was kept to a slow pace, presumably for safety on the uneven parkland. Some characters used unique weapons and fighting styles, like Dowglas’s double-dagger technique. This was a nice change from the Everybody-gets-the-same-sword stage combat seen too frequently in the theatre.
The Boomerang Theatre Company produced this show in various parks all over New York City, a different park each weekend. While the show was well-done artistically, the choice of venue was unfortunate. The audience was expected to stand or sit in the grass (or mud) of whatever park Boomerang happened to be performing in. The acoustics obviously weren’t so great, weather became an issue, and the dogs running across the “stage” didn’t help either. Of course any outdoor theatre production is going to attract a peanut gallery, and this one was no exception.
Director Kate Ross certainly waged a mighty battle against Mother Nature, since the play remained interesting despite the distractions of the outdoor performance. The funny scenes involving Hal and Falstaff were genuinely funny, yet the zaniness of Falstaff’s antics never overshadowed the impending tragedy of the King’s battle with his rivals for the throne, like Percy Hotspur (Travis Horseman). It is to be hoped that Boomerang will produce Part II next summer…indoors.
(Also featuring David Godbey, Andrew Blasenak, Bert Gurin, Gary Lamadore, Ronald Cohen, Travis Horseman, David Reinhart, Linda S. Nelson, and Jordana Davis)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby