Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OSF: Henry IV, Part One is a delight

After seeing a marvelous production of Henry IV, Part One at Oregon Shakespeare Festival my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I got to wondering why the Bard’s history plays don’t seem to get the play that some of the others do.

Not one of the history plays is in the top 10 most-produced shows at OSF. This year is the 75th anniversary of the festival, and its two most-produced plays are Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, both of which were produced both this season and in the festival’s first year, 1935. The all-time top 10:
(See a full rundown of the history of OSF productions.)

Prince Hal (John Tufts, top) comforts a
dying Hotspur (Kevin Kenerly) in Oregon
Shakespeare Festival's production of

Henry IV, Part One. Photo: Jenny Graham.
This year marks just the seventh time that OSF has produced Henry IV, Part One. Part of the reason may be that they’ve almost always produced part one, part two, and Henry V in consecutive years in order to tell the full story of Prince Hal. The first time they produced it was in 1950, and they’ve done it about every 10 years since. Perhaps history is too much work for some playgoers. Part of it may be box office, too. A friend who works for the festival says Henry is lagging behind some of the other offerings in ticket sales.

This is a pity, as it is an excellent production, directed by Penny Metropulos and packed with some of Ashland’s top talents.

The story isn’t all that complicated. Prince Hal, slacker son of the king, would rather spend his time at the pub than at court. In the end, though, he steps up his game and helps pops quell the rebellion.

We’re especially excited about John Tufts, who was so great in last year’s Equivocation, played Romeo a couple of years ago, and will, we presume, play Prince Hal again next year in Part Two and in 2012 in Henry V. David Kelly is hilarious as Sir John Falstaff, James Newcomb fiendish as Earl of Worcester, and Kevin Kennerly fantastic as Henry “Hotspur” Percy.

A special tip of the cap, too, to U. Jonathan Toppo, who played Sir Walter Blunt and also was the fight director for the production. This was one of the most physical productions we’ve seen, concluding with several lengthy and realistic swordfights. It’s a wonder nobody gets chopped up! The choreography of these stage fights is meticulous and precise, and the battles were a joy to watch.

Hurry up if you want to see this great production. Henry IV, Part One runs through October 9 at OSF’s Elizabethan Stage. It might be a decade until your next chance.

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