Shakespeare troupe offers a fun time with Henry IV
If the staid Tudor presence of Agecroft Hall is too tame for you, check out the roller coaster they've installed.
It's called "Henry IV, Part 2," and it's another knockout production by Richmond Shakespeare Festival.
Having brought us the first two plays in the Henry IV story--"Richard II" and "Henry IV, Part 1" -- we're up to the 15th-century moment in which Henry is dying, worried to be leaving his kingdom to his wastrel son, Prince Hal.
Hal has been hanging out with the hilarious but shady Falstaff, though in Part 1 he stepped up and fought the rebels who sought to wrest England from Henry.
Part 2 veers between the high drama of the continuing political rebellion and the low comedy of Falstaff and the thieves and prostitutes in his orbit. It's a kind of emotional whiplash, and it's exceedingly fun.
The nominal leading roles -- Henry and Hal -- are not so large, though David Bridgewater's Henry has a marvelous scene late in the play.
As Henry berates his son, believing Hal is eager to become king himself, Bridgewater's face seems to take on the hollows of a dying man as he blasts Hal with the last gout of power left in him.
Phillip James Brown is back as Hal, and he doesn't have too much to do here, but he is powerful in the role. Happily, Daryl Clark Phillips returns as a bigger-than-life, rollicking Falstaff, whose version of a Shakespearean soliloquy is a worshipful discourse on his favorite booze.
And although all the secondary players speak beautifully under Melissa Carroll-Jackson's verse coaching, there are standouts. Cynde Liffick and Jacquie O'Connor are hysterical as Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly, pursuers of Falstaff.
Joseph Anthony Carlson is scarily intense as the outlaw Pistol, and he steals focus as the revolting recruit Wart, while Brandon Crowder is breathtaking in the complete switches he makes between the three roles he plays.
Director James Alexander Bond manages this circus, using the stage masterfully and somehow making the emotional changes work. Once again, Rebecca Cairns, assisted by Ann Hoskins, has created rich and varied costumes, and Andrew Hamm provides a subtle musical backdrop.
Carlson did the excellent fight choreography -- and in case that's not physical enough, several cast members do an amazing all-tumbling pre-show.
Apparently Shakespeare thought his audiences couldn't take their history without a good dose of laughs. "Henry IV, Part 2" turns us all into satisfied groundlings.