BWW Review: Excellent HENRY IV PARTS 1 AND 2 Gets Three More Performances at Archway
Archway Theatre Company has devoted itself to presenting great Shakespeare for several years. That said, they will do almost anything to make their productions work better, including switching venues in order to get just the right atmosphere. Their current production of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 is a humongous challenge for any American company. Archway has moved to the Tarzana Community Cultural Center in Tarzana because the space allows them the opportunity to present the work outside, as Shakespeare was originally performed. and... because other locales would not allow swordfighting...how can you do Henry proper justice without swordplay?
On gala opening night Saturday the 8th, sirens blared with vehicles in full view on Ventura Blvd. No planes or helicopters flew over, thank heavens, but every other street sound became audible, loud and clear. Nevertheless, the company forged on with strong voices, overcoming the background noise and engaging us to the fullest capacity. Audience sat on two sides with the stage between, and the building entrance served as the palace with the King's throne in front. Curtains hung on the opposite end, and actors made entrances and exits on both ends. Lighting could have been a bit better, but we will forgive. Henry IV Part 1 is usually over 2 hours but came in at an hour and twenty five minutes, due to some fine trimming of the script, as did Part 2, at about the same length. Part 1, intermission and Part 2 totaled about three hours.
My biggest issue is not with the company but with the play itself. Part 1 rivets our attention as King Henry (Steven Sabel) tries to hold his empire together in spite of the fact that his own son Prince Hal (Will Holbrook) fritters away his time partying with low life John Falstaff (John Eddings) who has made an occupation out of cheating and lying, severely testing his loyalty to the King. The bar scenes are very funny with Falstaff, in a drunken stupor, boasting of all the things he hasn't really done, pulling Hal, the next King Henry V, into his clutches to try and guarantee a steady kinship, and of course, there are a few pretty wenches about to lend plenty of sensuality. Adding to the excitement, the duels as Hal segues back to his father's side are fast and furious, putting the audience on the edge of their seats. Part 2, however, has so much repetition that one wishes that the king, plagued by illness, might die a little quicker, putting Hal on the throne as a sturdy king who permanently dismantles his ties with the disloyal Falstaff. But alas, this is Shakespeare and Archway does all that it can to bring the story full circle and to keep us entertained and engrossed.
Under Ron Milts skilled direction, the space is well covered and the pacing brisk and intelligible. The ensemble are all big and bold, giving memorable performances. The three leads are wonderfully adept in bringing off the sharp physicality as well as the emotional life of the characters. Eddings is delightful as Falstaff, squeezing every ounce of humor from his over.the.top speeches. Sabel makes Henry straightforward, a caring father, yet weak and frail with illness. Holbrook is dashing as Hal, carrying off his physical moves with panache and exuding a true portrait of a man, willing and able to transform to a serious leader. Holbrook has matured and grown better since his Romeo debut in 2017. Keep your eye on him! One actor had to bow out of the production right before opening, so director Ron Milts went on with script in hand. He carried it off flawlessly ... no distraction or lags.
Kudos to Angie Robbins for vibrant costumes, to John Eddings for colorful scenic units and to fight coordinator Jesse Durant who keeps the fight scenes active and believable.
Only three more chances to catch Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, June 21-23 in Tarzana. In spite of the street noise, which did die down, the company deliver electric work that merits your attention.