Fit for a king
Royalty sure has its kinks and its quirks, what with all the malice, deceit, mutiny and the handing down of the throne. So it is in Reno Little Theater’s production of Henry IV. The lives of the characters may be seriously messed up, but the actors’ performances are anything but. Fourteen cast members play 38 different roles (earls, knights, archbishops, fools) and their range and adaptability are commendable.
Kirk Gardner and Michael Peters adapted the production from William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Richard the Second and the first and second parts of Henry IV. Peters also directed the play.
Joshua Jessup’s Prince Hal is a handsome and stately character, although a bit of a mischief maker. Hal is the Prince of Wales and son to King Henry IV (Gardner) and is likeable from the moment he makes his grand appearance. Jessup exploits royal mannerisms and a majestic deportment to great effect as he portrays the personality of a future king. Gardner’s “present” king is strong and venerable. His grasp of the power of Shakespeare’s language makes King Henry master of his scenes and a formidable figure to be reckoned with.
The pivotal father-son scene involves the prince placing his father’s crown upon his own head, thinking the king is dead. The king wakes (surprise!) and spots the crown, saying, “Foolish youth seek for that which will overwhelm them"—he has not been so happy with the more lowly company his son keeps. Gardner and Jessup’s interactions are sincere and powerful; they are excellent counterparts.
Sir John Falstaff’s (Leo McBride) role as the comic relief in a side plot is crucial. Falstaff and his two cronies steal a prize from two other men. Unknown to Falstaff, his friends Prince Hal and Poins (Dominic Lopez) don masks of their own and come upon Falstaff to steal his already-pilfered loot. The knight readily offers the stolen treasure to his attackers as his followers run away screaming.
Falstaff later joins Hal and Poins to describe the thievery of his stolen sack, not failing to mention the countless men who overtook him. His deceit is apparent, and although the prince is highly entertained, he can no longer hide his secret and his amusement. Falstaff’s attempt to recover himself is humorous and adept.
Facial expressions are the highlights of the show, exaggerated and subdued to great effect. As the actors become entwined in one another’s dialogue, their faces always ring true. They play the range from joy to grief to fear with ease and talent.
Authentic, bright costumes adorn the cast. The dress worn by Lady Percy (Nicole Bracco) is a stunning Renaissance piece. There are few props and a sparse set. The strong performances are central, and the cast’s chemistry is right on.
No play would be complete without good old-fashioned fight scenes, and Henry IV delivers. The fight between Prince Hal and Hotspur (Brian Barney) is dramatic and realistic. The echo of clinking swords verges on enticing the audience to stand and cheer for the outcome.
As the production comes to a close, Prince Hal rises to the office as his father hoped he would and becomes King Henry V. He takes his place on the throne and stares ahead to his future. Sitting before imaginary royalty has never been so impressive.