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Open: 08/22/09- Close: 09/06/09 Henry IV/V
Reviewed for By: Jennifer Rathbone

Matt McBrayer ©2020  Hal (Montgomery Sutton) and Falstaff (Jonathan Levy)
Rebellious Subjects Theatre in conjunction with 7th Sign Theatre Productions and the Prospect Park Alliance present Shakespeare’s histories, HENRY IV and HENRY V, at Prospect Park’s Music Pagoda. Within the beaux arts stone and columned gazebo, RST has constructed a fully realized cohesive production in traditional medieval style. The structure, originally designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead for concerts, predating the band shell, is perfectly suited for this quiet and secluded theatrical experience. In addition, this, being two of the history plays, is one of the most challenging pieces of Shakespearean text to make entertaining and RST has succeeded in their efforts.

HENRY IV is the Bard of Avon’s interpretation of the end of the Hundred Year’s War and the conclusion of the Welsh Revolt in the 1400s in Medieval England. As such, Shakespeare and his Elizabethan audience would have recognized the names and genealogies of the characters and would have been more focused on the plot and the theatrics of the drama. RST has, thankfully, included in the playbill, a historical breakdown of the play and the connections between characters for a simplified understanding of the basic points. Elyzabeth Gorman has cut and spliced Parts I and II of HENRY IV into an easy to follow transcription of the events leading up to the appointment of Prince Hal as King Henry V and his reformation from rebellious youth into a responsible monarch. This version of the play consists of a story in equal parts about the Percies Revolt and attempted abdication of King Henry IV; Falstaff and his foolish rise to fame; and the young Prince Hal’s maturity and ascension to reign.

Matt McBrayer ©2020  Bardolph (Ben Friesen), Mistress Quickly (Bryn Boice), Beadle (Kevin Mitchell), Falstaff (Jonathan Levy)
The impressive nineteen person cast is excellently versed. Since the play bounces from faction to faction, each group appears almost as a small ensemble and then joins together in a monster battle. Elyzabeth Gorman, assisted by Melissa Zygmant, has directed a seamless production that moves effortlessly between King Henry IV’s Castle, Mistress Quickly’s Tavern, the Percy’s lair, and the streets. Through the creative use of the space: the elevated, columned stage adorned with green and tan striped banners as the upper-class structures and the “pit” area backed by the stonework, natural tree enclosures, and marked by the beautifully constructed wooden cart; there is a clear distinction between the royalty and the rabble. It also enables action to “cross fade” between the upper deck and the lower mossy areas. The action jumps right off of the stage and into the crowd, as the play progresses. The Battle of Shrewsbury, where Prince Hal strikes down Hotspur (Act v.4 Part I), appears epic in the number of people consumed in the slow motion hand-to-hand combat choreographed by Ben Rezendes. An interesting choice is that the ensemble uses their arms as swords in cutting down their enemies. The Medieval period costumes by Jessica Lustig fully come into effect during this battle, where you see the vibrant juxtaposition of the color palette: King Henry IV’s gang is dressed in hues of royal blues; while Percy’s rebels are in light earth-tones of tans and browns. It’s evident that this scale of production benefited from a costume shop and they have thanked Montclair State University in their program for that. Much kudos to Lustig for creating a complete and beautiful design on what I am sure was a tight AEA Showcase budget.

The entire cast proved their control of the Shakespearian language and physical command of the stage. Highlighted performances acted by Bryn Boice*, as the fiery Mistress Quickly; Jonathan Levy, as low brow fool, Falstaff; Nick Reinhardt, as riotous Hotspur; and Montgomery Sutton*, as prankster turned noble Prince Hal.

Rebellious Subjects Theatre will also present HENRY V directed by Melisa Annis in repertory with HENRY IV in the park. RST’s production of HENRY IV proves an entertaining spectacle of Shakespeare’s histories.

Music Pagoda at Prospect Park : Prospect Park