Virtual art

Henry IV
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Bradford Brown
Ring of Fire Productions, Inc.
Flamboyan Theater, Clemente Solo Velez Cultural Center (closed)
Review by Miriam Eusebio

A young woman (Amanda Hueting) and a computer game (Jody Carlson's face on a video wall) are choosing the parameters at the start of a virtual game, when two men (John Kinsman and Michael Poignand) enter. The game is Henry the IV. When we next see the characters they are in the game. Hueting has been assigned the character Hotspur, Poignand is Hal, and Kinsman is Falstaff, with "computer-generated" characters filling the other roles.

This production of Henry the IV was solid and engaging - the premise worked, the actors were good, and the directing solid. Bradford Brown showed himself to be an intelligent director; his faults are those that time will mend, and his strengths will only grow.

The dramatic action may not have been clearly distilled in his mind, a confusion that was reflected on stage. There was a lack of suspense and drive. This failing is in part due to the premise: they are playing a game and don't know the outcome, but the audience does: she, as Hotspur, will lose. The premise made harder what is already a big challenge of the play: how to make a foregone conclusion exciting to watch.

Most characters were played in a narrow range of colors, and the play suffered emotionally as a result. The characters didn't change, learn, discover, or grow. A little too often the actors were yelling instead of acting, and there were only muted changes in tone of character from moment to moment, scene to scene. Too often the staging had the actors all in a line talking over their shoulders to each other. Hotspur, for example, was one shade of petulant fury belying other reports of him as valiant, thus undercutting any suspense about who was the better man. Nor was there any suspense about whether Hal would reform. When he, as King, rejected Falstaff there was no shock of surprise or pang of remorse.

Also ill-considered was the cross-gender casting in various roles. It was not clear, for example, if Worcester (a very good Juniper Berolzheimer) was to be perceived as male or female. A choice has to be made, and pronouns etc. changed or not. The pronouns said male, but body language often spoke female.

For all these quibbles, this was not a wasted evening by any means. The company achieved very well its stated purpose of mixing theatre with technology.

The young actors were all accomplished and have a grasp of the language. Brent Vimtrup created a full humanity for each role he played (Poins, Vernon, Warwick and Davey) and Russell Hankin brought wildly different qualities to his Douglas, Peto and Fang. Ben Killberg's runny-nosed Bardolph was consistently earnest. Julie Thaxter-Gourlay as Mistress Quickly was among the more nuanced. Michael Salconi (King Henry, Glendower, Chief Justice and a Traveler) grew into the majesty of his major role, but shone as Chief Justice, bringing clarity and truth to his exchange with the newly crowned Hal. Dan Burrows, John Murray, David O'Kelley, and Steve Shattenberg completed the cast.

Christian Couture's costume design of Renaissance with a touch of Mad Max was well-suited to the premise. The fights, choreographed by Nick Gisonde, were unconvincing. The work of John Dunkle (lighting design) and Benjamin Gregory Jones (scenic coordinator) was simple and to the point.

I look forward to seeing more of this company's work and watching them grow, as they are clearly smart, resourceful, and talented people.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Miriam Eusebio