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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: December ::
Cry for Harry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2307  Monday, 8 December 2003

From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Dec 2003 09:27:43 -0500
Subject:        Cry for Harry

The Lincoln Center Theater's production of Henry IV (Parts I and II
condensed into a single tedious evening that shortchanges both plays)
has been loudly saluted with hip-hip-hurrahs by the New York press.  Yet
it is scarcely better than the Disneyland Shakespeare that countless US
"festivals" have presented for years.  In the opening moments a pedantic
spotlight picks out serial tableaux of Hal-and-Falstaff, the angry King
and the defiant rebels.  The remaining four hours are on the same level:
over-explanatory and under-thought, safely simplistic and safely dull.
The costumes are traditional; the set is the usual assemblage of levels
and sliding platforms; the battles feature the customary strobe lights,
flashes and smoke effects.  Glibness of delivery and rapidity of
scene-changes are stressed at the expense of fresh interpretation.  The
low-lives roister; the rebels swagger; the royals declaim; the audience
dozes.  Worse yet, there is not a single defining performance in the
production, although some actors do better than others.

As Falstaff, Kevin Kline works slowly and patiently, accumulating
goodwill.  He never overplays; his line readings are nicely-judged; he
delivers his key speeches intelligently.  He is ultimately endearing.
Yet he is hardly a great Falstaff.  His restraint shades into blandness;
he projects a dainty whimsicality rather than an heroic vitalism; and he
lacks the authority of years, an imposing personality or a truly outsize
talent.  His low, quiet tones and private chuckle make
Falstaff--Falstaff!--seem like an introvert.  In the end, Kline's
padding is more well-rounded than his concave performance.  Still, he
does better than expected.

The same might be said of Ethan Hawke's Hotspur, but only in comparison
to his hopeless performance in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000).  Since
then he has been practicing:  he no longer speaks Shakespearean dialogue
as if it were pidgin English.  Yet he still speaks terribly, barking and
gabbling his lines, alternating staccato outbursts with stretches of
artificial propulsion.  His rhetorical insufficiencies are matched by
his paucity of martial charisma:  not for a moment does one believe that
this callow punk is a great warrior or an inspiring leader.

The Royals provide little respite.  Richard Easton harrumphs his way
through the title role, often lacking the breath to complete his lines
without lapsing into strangulated hoarseness.   As his scapegrace son,
Michael Hayden proves a shallow Hal, striking a series of
poses--dissipated, plangent, sardonic, regal--that never coalesce into a
human being.  His mid-Atlantic accent (the only one in the company) and
his equally inauthentic declamation cast an ersatz pall over each of his
scenes.

Among the ensemble, Dana Ivey is a fine Dame Partlet of a Mistress
Quickly, while Jeff Weiss has developed some over-busy but frequently
amusing schtick as Justice Shallow (Weiss delivers the line about Jane
Nightwork--"Nay, she must be old, she cannot choose but be old, certain
she's old"--with a gleeful satisfaction that the erstwhile strumpet can
no longer break men's hearts: a strikingly funny and, in my experience,
novel take on a line that is usually sentimentalized). As the Chief
Justice and Owen Glendower, Dakin Matthews speaks more fluently than
most of the company, but is otherwise unremarkable.  Byron Jennings has
some good worried moments as Worcester.  No one else makes an
impression.

--Charles Weinstein

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