AISLE SAY San Francisco


By William Shakespeare. adapted by Dakin Matthews
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Mladen Kiselov
Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre
Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Dakin Matthews' award-winning adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Parts One and Two" has made its way to California Shakespeare Theater. In addition to the 2004 Tony Award for best revival and a special Drama Desk award for the adaptation, this production has special significance for the company. Matthews served as the company's artistic director from 1983 to 1986, when it was the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival. He also acted in numerous Bay Area productions, most notably at American Conservatory Theater. This production also marks the Bay Area debut of Bulgarian-born director Mladen Kiselov.

In combining two plays into one three-hour production with two intermissions, Matthews gives a clear through-line to the action despite eliminating more than half of the some 7,000 lines. Hence several minor characters disappear, and many scenes are either abbreviated or eliminated. For the most part, this approach works. However, it falls short in one crucial area -- the relationship between young Prince Henry (Sean Dugan) and Falstaff (Reg E. Cathey). By truncating the Eastcheap tavern scenes, where the prince, known as Hal, cavorts with Falstaff and miscellaneous low-lives (much to the consternation of his father, the king), the adaptation loses some of the flavor of the surrogate father-son relationship between Falstaff and Hal. The audience doesn't get much sense of the affection that Hal has for Falstaff. Hence, when Hal becomes king and renounces Falstaff, much of the pathos is lost.

The use of Cathey as Falstaff is interesting. Cathey's Falstaff is a tall, grizzled black man who has a gravely voice and who plays a bluesy saxophone but who has only a slight paunch -- thus belying numerous lines about the fat knight. However, the interpretation works, especially as the evening wears on.

Dugan is an effective Hal, heir to the throne of his father, King Henry IV (James Carpenter). He's first seen as a somewhat callow rich boy slumming in Eastcheap, but he knows just how far to go with his antics, drawing the line at robbing two travelers, for example, but gleefully joining his friend Poins (Liam Vincent), in subsequently robbing Falstaff and company of the booty. (Hal also makes sure that it is returned to its rightful owners.) The scenes between him and his father seem genuine, and he does grow into his kingship after his ailing, guilt-stricken father dies.

Supporting players are all solid, especially Joan Mankin as an assertive, fun-loving Mistress Quickly, Ron Campbell as a Mafia-style Earl of Worcester and Hector Correa as the Earl of Northumberland and as Edmund Mortimer. Graham Shiels generally manages the difficult role of the hot-headed Henry Percy (Hotspur), a character given to excesses of anger and action.

Costumes by Beaver Bauer place the action in the Depression, but Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone's notes to the audience indicate that the play's themes are timeless and still resonate today, as indeed they do. Narelle Sissons' set is dominated by a circular metal structure resembling an oil storage tank (shades of a White House with strong ties to the oil industry?). The structure then splits apart to represent various scenes, mainly Eastcheap, the court and the rebel camp. Lighting by Russell Champa helps the audience to focus while heightening the drama. The sound is by Jake Rodriguez. Richard Lane is fight director.

This production has much to recommend it, especially its clarity and acting, but the Falstaff-Hal relationship suffers.

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