As I mention below, the latest Richmond Shakespeare production is good enough for 2 reviews. So it’s a perfect situation to put this silly blog to good use. Be sure and pick up Style next Wednesday to read my outpouring of adjectives in praise of the show. But until then, read below for some more specifics on what I liked.
Let’s start with the beginning (a very fine place to start, no?). Jack Parrish as Henry IV is riveting. Physically, emotionally, vocally, he is the most truly regal king I believe I have ever seen in a Shakespearean production. In writing my review, I kept searching for comparisons: “he’s as good as…” but frankly could not come up with anything that sufficed. His stature – tall, strong, commanding – married to that voice – gravelly but still dynamic – is unique and singularly appropriate for this Henry. I could totally see a son wanting to distance himself from such a father’s shadow, yet Jack also delivers the “come back to the fold” speech so earnestly, how could Hal not be inspired to better himself? The best thing I think Richmond Shakespeare could do is bring back Jack for Part 2. Promise me that and I’ll start working on my rave review right now to save time…
I really didn’t think things could get any better than that but then we meet Phil Brown as Hal. Brown is a looker, there’s no doubt about that, and how refreshing to see a director exploit that with Hal’s initial shirtless appearance. But there is obviously more to Mr. Brown and it’s clear from the first scene. Though he projects a casual insouciance and off-hand joie de vivre, there is some grit beneath that chin stubble and it comes to the fore in the occasional steely glance or thoughtful comment. It takes an accomplished actor to convincingly portray a lay-about like Hal is at the play’s beginning but then transform into the noble Prince Henry at the play’s end. Brown lays the groundwork early on and then follows through expertly in the final scenes. His grand testament to Hotspur before the final battle is captivating. That scene may be one of the best in literature in demonstrating the selflessness of inspired leadership and Brown nails it.
Oh, and Mr. Ricks as Hotspur is more than a worthy counterpoint to Brown. One of the aspects of this show that I enjoyed most was the way Ricks played out his emotions in his body language. The way he sometimes seemed to both fold his body in and lift it up when angered or frustrated; or his dramatic toss of the head – like an adolescent’s eye-roll writ large. I liked the early scene between Hotspur and King Henry where they clash over prisoners, where Ricks seems to be barely holding in his boiling temper and then finally lets it loose. If I had to find a metaphor for Ricks in this show I’d say he was like the Shakespearean version of the Tasmanian Devil – all swirling and tempestuous emotion. It was delightful to watch.
As Falstaff, Mr. Phillips did a fine job though I was just a little less impressed by him than the others. A good part of this has to do with the specific performance I saw. It was a first preview and Darryl was obviously still finding his way around some of his lines. In other plays, I’ve liked Falstaff to have a stealthy brilliance lying beneath all of the lies and bluster. But, maybe in part because of his problems with the lines, Phillips mostly projected buffoonery. He did this admirably well, though, and there were a few other audience members near me who obviously delighted in every word out of his mouth. And in the most unique moment of the night, director James Alexander Bond had to stop the play to replace the seat Phillips was sitting on that seemed on the verge of collapse. Staying in character, Phillips tossed off a couple very funny extemporaneous quips that brought the house down. It was exceptional thinking on his feet…or, I guess, his seat…
It was great to see Grant Mudge onstage again. Grant has a singular ability to make every word he speaks, no matter how densely “Shakespearean” the verse may be, absolutely clear to the contemporary listener. This was a particularly noteworthy feat in “Henry” as a couple of his characters spoke with thick accents. He also was a worthy playmate for Hal as Poins, matching the prince verse for verse in charisma and wit.
There are many other things I could rave about – the great costumes get a mention in my Style review, Andrew Hamm’s incidental music bridging and augmenting many scenes was always excellent and appropriate, the lovely lilting Welsh ballad was beautifully delivered by the lovely Alex Buchanan (...but why no bio for her in the program???). I’ve always thought back wistfully to the early days of RSF, where their looser, zanier versions of shows like “Two Gentlemen of Verona” brought exciting new life to Shakespeare. But this production was easily among my favorite 2 or 3 ever done by the RSF folks. It was exceedingly witty, bracingly dramatic, and just a deeply satisfying theatrical experience.