By Robert Simonson
28 Nov 2003
The three-act undertaking began previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on Oct. 28 and was embraced by critics upon opening on Nov. 20. Co-starring with Kline in the tale of warring armies and clashing fathers and sons are Richard Easton, Ethan Hawke, Michael Hayden, Kevin Kline and Audra McDonald.
While audiences at Henry IV don't quite hear the famous chimes at midnight, of which Falstaff speaks, they come awfully close: the production begins most evenings at 7 PM and doesn't let out until just before 11 PM. Considering that the adaptation telescopes two three-hour dramas, however, the running time is relatively brief.
The works focuses on the familial, royal and political conflicts surrounding Henry Bolingbroke, the king, who usurped the crown from Richard II (all detailed in Shakespeare's Richard II). Prince Hal, the king's son, is a callow youth who hangs out with a group of jolly reprobates led by Falstaff, a corpulent, cowardly, but quick-witted and endearing lush. All the while, however, Hal privately vows to himself that he will one day mend his ways and assume the throne.
Meanwhile, that throne is beset upon from all sides. The woebegone Henry IV, trying to defuse the hot-blooded Henry Percy—son of the Earl of Northumberland, and known as Hotspur—instead inspires a rebellion led by Hotspur and including his father the Earl; his uncle, the vain and ambitious Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester; as well as the Welsh warrior Owen Glendower and the Scottish Earl of Douglas. The ensuing conflict calls Hal to his senses and an unwilling Falstaff to arms. Hal and his father reconcile, and the conflict eventually leads to a battle to the death between Hal and Hotspur. At the same time, Hal must resolve the battle for his affections, choosing between his real father and the surrogate one he has found in Falstaff.
The action takes place on scenic designer Ralph Funicello's set of rough-hewn lumber, constructed as a series of platforms, stairways, posts and beams. Lighting designer Brian MacDevitt carves up the playing space in pools and squares of light. The dark-hued costumes by Jess Goldstein are largely time appropriate.
Kevin Kline plays Falstaff, his latest sally into the world of Shakespeare, and a ripely comic role that stage actors often use to crown their careers. Michael Hayden is his princely pal, Hal, heir to the British throne currently held by a shaky and worried Henry IV, played by Easton, who won a Tony for The Invention of Love. Hayden replaced Billy Crudup as Prince Hal during rehearsals. Crudup left for what was described as "personal reasons." Hayden had what remains his most notable role at Lincoln Center—Billy Bigelow in Carousel. He recently acted on Broadway in Enchanted April.
Jennings, a castmate of Hayden in Carousel (as was McDonald), is the conniving Earl of Worcester. Hawke is Hal's hot-tempered and peremptory rival, Hotspur. Terry Beaver plays Hotspur’s father, the Earl of Northumberland. Hotspur's allies include the plays' adapter, Dakin Matthews as the vainglorious Glendower, C.J Wilson as warlike Douglas, Peter Jay Fernandez in the role of the doubting Sir Richard Vernon and Scott Ferrera as the vindictive Mortimer, whose banishment sparks the rebellion.
As for the women, Dana Ivey stars as both Mistress Quickly and Lady Northumberland, and Audra McDonald is Lady Percy, a role with only a few scenes. Henry IV is McDonald's first major non-musical play on the New York stage since Terrence McNally's Master Class, for which she won a Tony Award (and she did sing within that play's master class conceit), and her first important stab at the classics.
Falstaff's cronies include Steve Rankin (as Poins), David Manis (Pistol), Ty Jones (Nym), Stephen DeRosa (Bardolph), Genevieve Elam (Doll Tearsheet), Tom Bloom (Justice Silent) and LCT regular Jeff Weiss, in the choice buffoon role of the foolish and boasting Justice Shallow.
The cast of 33 is completed by Tyrees Allen, Anastasia Barzee, Christine Marie Brown, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Albert Jones, Aaron Krohn, Jed Orlemann, Lorenzo Pisoni, Steve Rankin, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Corey Stoll, Baylen Thomas, Nance Williamson and Richard Ziman.
O'Brien has directed such recent and disparate successes as The Invention of Love, The Full Monty and Hairspray.
For the record books, Henry IV happens to be Lincoln Center Theater's 100th production.
Broadway hasn't seen either of the Henry IV plays since 1946, when Ralph Richardon played Falstaff and Laurence Olivier as Hotspur at the New Century Theatre for eight performances. In 1939, Margaret Webster directed a version featuring Maurice Evans as Sir John and Edmund O'Brien as Prince Hall.
Henry IV was performed in 1767 at the John Street Theatre, the first important theatre to serve New York City. David Douglas, who built the edifice, played Falstaff.