Shakespeare’s plays demand as much from their audience as they do from the performers. Sharp listeners and nimble, sure-footed actors are especially required for the history plays with their large array of characters and complex plots of shifting alliances.
As directed by Mia Self, Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s latest installment of the tetralogy chronicling the tumultuous reigns of English kings from Richard II to Henry V, Henry IV, Part 2, shares some 24 characters between a cast of four. It is an innovative and challenging approach to the transitional story of a rakish prince rejecting his corrupt ways and accepting his nobility.
Taking up where Henry IV, Part 1 ended, the sequel mixes the fomenting of rebellion with the buffoonery of Falstaff. While more emphasis is placed on the comedy, with a variety of colorful characters easily instigating laughter, the plot is not very well-defined. There are no big battles, just lots of scheming with some reconciliation by the end. The one pivotal moment is the king dying – a highly emotional scene that marks the transformation of the heir to the throne. This drama acts mostly as an interlude or back story for the next part, Henry V.
Laura Parker and Dustin Britt reprise their roles of Prince Hal and Poins, again exhibiting their fine chemistry. Parker infuses the royal heir with a growing maturity that underscores Hal’s distant interactions with Falstaff. Britt makes full use of his comedic chops in his other humorous roles as well, expertly contorting his body and voice to clearly distinguish each character. Notably, he smoothly pivots from invoking mirth to subtly demonstrating the growing hostility of Hal’s brother, Prince John.
Jed Dixon offers up a rousing portrayal of the gluttonous and carousing Falstaff, deftly commanding the stage with witty word-play and crude, roguish charm. Dixon is also impressive when he assumes the regal demeanor of an aging King Henry IV. Teal Lepley rounds out the cast, particularly shining in their performance of Doll Tearsheet, a less than reputable companion of Falstaff’s.
A sharp distraction to these engaging performances was the sheer number of times the audience was tasked with puzzling out scenes. Though characters were clearly distinguished, it took a minute to figure out who’s who in any specific scene. Additional cues might have minimized this confusion.
Overall, this production offered a respite from the character-heaviness of a typical Shakespeare history play. And as always, the company used music to complement the action, which is engaging. Unfortunately though, while it was abundantly clear that the cast was enjoying themselves, the audience was often left to feel outside the inside joke.
This show has closed, however, follow Sweet Tea Shakespeare for additional shows and streaming options.
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