Comedy and kingship rule in SSC’s funny, moving ‘Henry IV Part 2’
Sir John Falstaff rides again in “Henry IV Part 2,” the third production in Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s 2012 summer season. The sequel to last year’s popular “Henry IV Part 1,” returning director Scott Wentworth’s production offers plenty of drama—death and loss, kingship, statecraft, rebellion, family dynamics, and the passing of the crown from one generation to the next, along with a resonant meditation on aging that runs throughout the play.
But the centerpiece is the bawdy comedy and ignoble scheming of Falstaff, and Richard Ziman’s robust, gargantuan performance in the role. Extravagantly dressed by costumer B.Modern in a variety of hilariously spangled and braided military outfits and luxurious frock coats, Ziman fills the cavernous Festival Glen with this lusty, bragging, blustery, old rogue and his appetites—for food, wine, and women, for fleecing his friends in pursuit of all of the above, for life itself. Repeating in the role from last year, Ziman has a stand-up comedian’s knack for connecting with the crowd, delighting himself (and us) with his own merriment; his famous speech in praise of sack (wine) is a bravura showstopper, and yet the fleeting moments when he pauses to ponder the inevitability of aging and what lies beyond are just as compelling.
“Henry IV Part 2” is really less a sequel than a second act between the battles, roistering and political maneuvering of “Henry IV Part 1” and the triumphant kingship of Prince Hal in “Henry V” (the final play in the “Henriad” cycle, coming to SSC in 2013). It begins right after the Battle of Shrewsbury, where Hal killed his valiant cousin, Hotspur, who had joined the Welsh rebels to try and depose Hal’s father, King Henry. Mortality haunts the action of this play the way the silent, bloodied ghost of Hotspur haunts the stage in these early scenes; a large coffin centerstage dominates Michael Ganio’s set design for much of the play, at times doubling as a table or bed.
The Archbishop of York (a rabble-rousing Kit Wilder) is still preaching rebellion in the north, but the campaigns are essentially over for King Henry (V Craig Heidenreich, also repeating from last year, but more effective this time). The old king is dying, and Prince Hal (the excellent Charles Pasternak) is scarcely to be seen. Which leaves much of the play to Falstaff, contemplating the favoritism and life of ease he expects once Hal, his former protégé, gains the throne, and amusing himself with feisty hostess Mistress Quickly (the delicious Marion Adler), caustic tart Doll Tearsheet (Lisa Kitchens), and various low-comedy companions.
The most memorable and consistently funny of these are a pair of elderly justices, irascible Shallow (Richard Farrell), still reliving the exploits of his distant youth, and the deaf Silent (Ted Barton), who gets great comic mileage out of his ear trumpet and his toothy grin of delayed comprehension.
But for all the frivolity—and there’s plenty of it—the play reaches its powerful and very moving climax in the final encounter between old Henry and Prince Hal. Each has much to regret and each needs absolution from the other, and between the textured emotions and unexpected physical business (cascading laughter, impulsive assault) with which the actors and Wentworth navigate Shakespeare’s poetry, the scene is a knockout. Heidenreich’s mercurial voice is one of the chief assets of this production, and Pasternak is such a dynamic presence, the play feels a bit empty when he’s not around.
Dramatic music from Rodolfo Ortega, and a quartet of women swathed in white (“Angels of Mercy” they’re called in the credits) bearing silent witness to the male action, also highlight Wentworth’s clever design. Don’t worry if you’re not up on 15th Century English politics; the laughs are still funny and the emotions heartfelt in this handsome production.
SSC’s production of ‘Henry IV Part 2’ plays in repertoire through Aug. 26 in the Sinsheimer/Stanley Festival Glen at UCSC, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 459-2159, or visit shakespearesantacruz.org.