Seattle Shakespeare’s Wooden O Productions is featuring a delightful Henry IV Part I in their outdoor series this year. On a shirtsleeve July evening in a park in Issaquah, the talented troop laid out one of the Bard’s most cherished history plays with a remarkable degree of skill and focus, never thrown off by the passing skateboarders or blasting car radios.
A great deal of this work is a schizophrenic melding of two very different story lines. In the royal court, King Henry IV (David Anthony Lewis) is contending with rebellious factions in Scotland and Wales and worrying about the loyalty of the volatile Hotspur (Joe Ngo).
Meanwhile, at the Boar’s Head tavern, Henry’s wayward son Hal (Conner Neddersen) is living the highlife with his pals Falstaff (Tim Hyland) and Poins (Matthew Gilbert). The contrast between the two settings is heightened in this production by turning the bar into a British punk rock hangout. Falstaff even sings “I Want to be Sedated” at one point of his carousing! Gilbert seems to be having a ball as the hard drinking Poins, ever egging Hal on to crazier shenanigans.
Hyland puts together a wonderful characterization as the unrepentant, ribald Falstaff; it is easy to see why young Prince Henry enjoys his company. Yet it is Neddersen’s work that anchors this production. His thoughtful portrayal of Hal possesses a nuance not often seen in a public park production. It is a joy to watch him transform himself from a carefree ne’er-do-well to the responsible and brave prince that must ultimately reject Falstaff and the tavern life.
Shakespeare eventually sews the two disparate story lines together as young Hal and a very reluctant Falstaff join Henry IV in battling the rebels. The troop’s production honed all the machinations of the plot down to a swiftly moving two hours.
Jessica Kiely as Lady Percy and Ngo exude a natural charm in a quiet scene they share before all the sword fighting takes place. Special honors go out to Kate Witt who portrays both the bawdy innkeeper Mistress Quickly and the bitter rebel Worcester. The dual roles could not be more different in nature; Witt nails them both bringing out entirely different acting chops in the process. Indeed, Director George Mount should be very proud of his entire cast, for they are delivering a solid, entertaining product.
Robertson Witmer served as the sound designer and assured that all the lines were heard clearly throughout the park, no easy task considering that none of the actors toted around body mikes.
A good deal of stage magic took place with the simple use of but a table, chair and footstool. Craig Wollam is serving as set designer for the production. Henry IV Part I is appearing in tandem with As You Like It for this year’s Wooden O Free (donations are appreciated) Shakespeare in the Parks. They will run through August 9. For more information on dates and locations, go to seattleshakespeare.org.