It wouldn’t be summer without outdoor Shakespeare. Directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb, Shakespeare Orange County’s production of Henry IV, Part I delivers the perfect diversion: political plotting, pranks, romance, swordfights and the comedic wisdom of a portly drunk. What’s more, seating is up on stage, so you won’t miss a moment of the action and amusement.
The play begins with King Henry IV’s (John Shouse) ascension to the English throne and, almost immediately, a plot to usurp him, orchestrated by the slighted Percy Family, especially determined young Hotspur (Michael Shenefelt). Meanwhile, the king’s son Prince Hal (Robert Tendy) is busy cavorting in taverns with his friend Poins (Jonathon Fisher) and the older, inebriate Falstaff (Bodie Newcomb), whom they tease relentlessly.
The structure of the play offers a satisfying buildup of tension on two sides– on one, the Percy Family’s ongoing vengeful plotting against the king, and on the other, Prince Hal having to face up to his obligations, which in one droll scene involves him and Falstaff role-playing as the king. Eventually, Hotspur and the rebellious Scottish and Welsh forces clash with the English in battle, swords and daggers yielding carnage. What fate will befall your favorite characters?
Acting in this production is uniformly strong. Shouse is convincingly regal as Henry IV (reminiscent of British actor Sir Ian McKellen). Shenefelt is compelling as the hot-headed Hotspur, seeking revenge for his family’s honor and sometimes romancing his wife, Lady Percy (a fitting Alexandra Wright).
Tendy’s Prince Hal is Hotspur’s effective opposite– charmingly clever and only interested in enjoyment, at least until it’s time to grow up. And Newcomb thoroughly embodies the hearty Falstaff, with his propensity for exaggeration and purely selfish motives. (His wittiness in justifying his seemingly dishonorable behavior is something to listen for.)
The supporting cast also contributes enthusiastically, including Nate Ruleaux as the thickly accented and kilted Scottish militant Mortimer, and Fisher as the prince’s privileged pal Poins. Genevieve Flati seems to have had clown training and uses it to good effect as the comical Bardolph.
Adding to the delight, costuming (Sean McMullen) is interesting and inventive, with deconstructed suits, school uniforms and military attire interwoven with medieval robes and tartan fabrics. The result transforms the story from a history play to a timeless tale of power, duty, honor and even survival.
As the summer winds down, why not sit under the stars (with occasional fireworks) and experience a Shakespeare play that has it all? And don’t worry that this is only Henry IV, Part I– like any Star Wars film, it’s complete in itself while still part of an ongoing family drama.
Henry IV, Part I continues through Aug. 26 at Shakespeare Orange County, 12762 Main Street, Garden Grove, with shows Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $25 to $40. For tickets and information, call (714) 590-1575 or visit shakespeareoc.org.