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Review: Brave Spirits' HENRY THE FOURTH PART 1 A Thrilling Second Installment to their History Rep

Review:  Brave Spirits' HENRY THE FOURTH PART 1 A Thrilling Second Installment to their History Rep

When you think of history plays like Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth, Part 1, it's tempting to focus on Prince Hal's escapades with his gang of drunks and braggarts, led by the biggest braggart of all, Sir John Falstaff.

But this being a play about the dire threats to Henry IV's rule, it also features one of the Bard's most magnetic villains, Harry Percy, aka-Hotspur. His arrogance, when done right, is so memorable you (almost) regret that he has to bite the dust by the end of this episode of England's greatest Renaissance docudrama series.

Y'all are in for a helluva ride this time. Just sayin'.

This is the second installment in Charlene V. Smith's four-play repertory project, and judging from the quality of the work here, Washington theatregoers are in for a truly rewarding experience of the Histories, well into April. Anchored by John Stange's solid turn as the king himself, we have a play that is notable for its variety of moods, but especially for two antipodal figures-Joshua Williams as the recklessly ambitious Hotspur, and Ian Blackwell Rogers as the pathologically lazy Falstaff. Together they give Prince Hal (Brendan Edward Kennedy, warming up for his turn as Henry V come March) a vision of the extremes to which a nobleman might go. That Hal charts a middle course-sober, but not arrogant-is an emerging theme here which will come to fruition once his father passes the crown onto him.

Williams' Hotspur is one of the most brilliantly-embodied villains you will ever see; tall, blonde and more entitled than Jared Kushner, he makes mincemeat of anyone who comes near him. He has looks and the charisma--and worst of all, he knows it, making a point of reminding everyone, in so many words, how grateful they should be that he's even looking at them. His Hotspur drips with sarcasm and contempt, but he does it so skillfully that you can't help but smile. Meanwhile, Rogers turns Falstaff into something of a lounge lizard-cum-standup comic, a silk-robed stoner engaging the audience with his cockeyed logic ("What is honor?") and surviving in spite of himself.

What Smith does here, too, is foreground the neglected role of noblewomen in England's great dynastic struggles; when she's not casting accomplished performers in traditionally male roles (Lisa Hill-Corley's turn as Worcester and Molly E. Thomas' gruff, tough Douglas are standouts), she highlights the tragic consequences of being wed to men whose ambitions will lead to ruin.

As Lady Kate Percy, Hotspur's wife, Jillian Riti gives us a memorable portrait of a woman whose most basic needs are rejected. Mirroring her despair is Molly E. Thomas in the role of Welsh noblewoman Lady Mortimer. Director Smith has made a point of giving Thomas an extended scene in Welsh Gaelic-a language Lady Mortimer's husband simply cannot understand. Dan Stevens' work as a Welsh consultant is a fascinating interlude on the eve of the final battle. Chances are you won't understand Lady Mortimer's Welsh (translated, briefly by Tom Howley's Owen Glendower), but that is rather the point; for it is the men's obsession with rank that renders any word from their wives, in Gaelic or English, completely incomprehensible.

Casey Kaleba's fight choreography for the climactic battle scene here is gripping, and enhanced by a variety of weapons, each appropriate to the character who wields it. And Jason Aufdem-Brinke's lights once again create some powerful images, as do Kristen P. Ahern's costumes.

Brave Spirits is well on their way to one of the more vital repertory seasons inside the Beltway that we have seen in quite some time. And the best news is that by next year, they will have accomplished the feat of eight - count' em-of Shakespeare's history plays, in sequence, which will be performed together, as a highlight of next Summer's theatre scene. Go see it now, you'll want to come back for much, much more.

Production Photo: Brendan Edward Kennedy as Prince Hal, Michael Bannigan Jr. as Ned Poins, Zach Brewster-Geisz as Bardolph, Molly E. Thomas as Gadshill, Brianna Goode as Peto, Ian Blackwell Rogers as Falstaff, and Nicole Ruthmarie as Frances. Photo by Claire Kimball.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Henry the Fourth, Part 1 will run in repertory, through April 18, with Henry the Fourth, Part 2, Richard II and Henry the Fifth at the The Lab at Convergence, 1819 Quaker Lane, Alexandria VA. Tickets are available online at https://www.bravespiritstheatre.com/tickets/, or at boxoffice@bravespiritstheatre.com .



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