The lesser Henry IV, participating in Movember

KCST’s second production of the year, Henry IV part 2, directed by David Silberthau, sold out fast. But Bwogger Britt Fossum managed to score some last minute tickets, and brought back a thoughtful review from last night’s showing.

KCST followed up their first show of the year, The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, with the more serious Henry IV part 2. Thursday’s show was sold out nearly two weeks in advance, but it was certainly worth showing up a half an hour early to get in off the waitlist.

The play opened with silence, fog, and a brief summary of the events of the previous play as told by Rumor, played by Lisa Maddox, and three members of her gang all wearing ghostly paint and ragged strips of cloth. The battle of Shrewsbury, which in Part 1 caused the death of Northumberland’s son Hotspur at the hands of Prince Hal and the end of his rebellion kicked some major ass. If you’re already confused, that is alright: this play is actually the third in a four-part sequence starting with Richard II and ending with Henry V. The program includes a brief summary of the most important bits of background information, and if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, doing some reading before coming to the play might be worth it.

It is actually not so much understanding the historical context that matters but rather understanding the relationships between characters.  For instance, Falstaff and Prince Hal only share a handful of scenes and the play emphasizes the prince’s disillusionment with this flawed father figure. One of the best parts of this production is how strong a persona Taha Wiheba, CC’16, creates for Falstaff: even another character’s imitation of him is easily recognizable. He is equal parts charismatic, hilarious, and depressingly hollow when not surrounded by admirers and enemies to impress. Many of the supporting roles are excellent as well: Will Beech,CC’16, as Shallow is appropriately smarmy and Kayla van de Bunt, CC’14, is charming and treacherous as Princess Jane.

The entire production seems to be building up to a commentary on youth, age, and authority. Falstaff and his group are attired in punky leather and bright colors, with even the prince rocking tattoo sleeves and a denim vest. The king and all other authority figures wear more conservative dress. The spare set echoes this too: pillars were used to make thrones, tables, and a bed and painted both with graffiti and gold patterns. The show could have gone all-out on the division between the king’s followers and Falstaff’s but the effect is marred by disorganization: at one point a character whips out a cell phone to share important news while earlier in the play everyone just used letters. With a bit more planning and consistency maybe the anachronism between the two groups would have been more clear.

At just under 3 hours the play is certainly long, but could have seemed much longer because of the complicated plot and volume of characters. Only a few scenes dragged, namely the tangential plot points of the Archbishop of York’s (David Froomkin, CC’15) failed rebellion and Northumberland (Keanu Ross-Cabrera, CC’16) dealing with his son’s death. The rest of the play moves forward almost too quickly, where the deeper conflict of Hal attempting to understand his father’s imminent death and Falstaff trying to avoid understanding his own is almost buried underneath fast-paced dialogue. Still, this was a fairly coherent rendition of a story that refuses to be condensed.

Henry IV of England via Wikimedia Commons