Theatre Review: ‘Henry IV, Part 2’ at Shakespeare Tavern

J. Tony Brown and Jonathan Horne as Falstaff and Prince Hal

“Henry IV” Parts 1 and 2 finish their repertory run at the Shakespeare Tavern on Oct. 21, and our main review of the “Henry” plays can be found at this link. Both are directed by Jeff Watkins. But before the curtain falls, I’d like to make a few comments and pay a few well-deserved compliments on Part 2.

Although one’s favorites are admittedly subjective, I would say that “Henry IV, Part 1” is the greater play. But there are scenes and moments and actors in Part 2 that are superb and should not be missed. By the way, either play can be seen and enjoyed by itself; but I hope that Shakespeare lovers (and there are a lot of them: Just look at the Tavern’s often capacity audiences) will see both.

Again, I’m assuming you’ve read our review for Part 1, and there will be no plot résumé here.

But we can know that in Part 2 we witness the slow but inevitable dissolution of the friendship between the great wit Falstaff (J. Tony Brown) and Prince Hal (Jonathan Horne), soon to be Henry V.

But Falstaff, superbly played by Mr. Brown, retains his incomparable intelligence, yet his affection for Hal clouds his judgment near the end. A friend of Falstaff’s quips: “Is it not strange that desire by so many years should outlive performance?”

Maurice Ralston as Henry IV.

And Falstaff himself remarks, “I’m as poor as Job but not so patient.” What he fails to (or won’t) recognize is that friendship between royalty and a private man, even if wholly respectable, calls for infinite tact; it (the friendship) can only exist so long as Prince Hal has no serious responsibilities. Falstaff’s displaced paternal love for Hal is his vulnerability, his one weakness. For Hal’s father, King Henry IV (Maurice Ralston) is dying, and the King is at last reconciled with Hal, who finally becomes totally serious and worthy of the throne.

The final scenes between Henry IV and Prince Hal are sublimely moving, played to perfection by Mr. Ralston and Mr. Horne. When Hal mistakenly thinks his father is already dead, he pours his heart out by Henry’s bedside. If you don’t tear up in this scene, where is your heart? Old Henry remains crusty and lucid to the end, but he is satisfied that his son is ready to inherit the kingship, noting “Uneasy rests the head that wears a crown.”

In this very large cast, I cannot give credit to nearly enough actors, but I’ll mention a few: Sean Kelley, Nicholas Faircloth, a boisterous Laura Cole, Chris Hecke,. and the compelling, very young Avery Michael as Falstaff’s page. This young actor has stage presence to burn, and I daresay has found the right medium of expression.

Part 2 is a bit slow at the beginning (dare I say that the Bard gets a bit loqacious? Yes. Of course, I’m like an ant criticizing Mount Everest). But there’s plenty of frivolity and bawdy shenanigans; Shakespeare knew his audience. Especially in the person of Falstaff, the playwright demonstrates how determined levity should counterbalance majesty and solemnity.

I’m grateful to the Tavern. Where else can you see live, vital Shakespearean plays like “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2,” instead of just “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” (not that there’s anything wrong with these masterpieces)? Say good-by to “Henry IV” if you possibly can.

For information, visit shakespearetavern.com.

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