Rogue Prince: Henry IV parts 1 and 2 is Theatre Coup d’Etat’s condensed adaption of William Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV parts I and II. The production is being staged at Calvary Baptist Church in South Minneapolis and the space is well suited for the job. As one enters the church basement there is a ticket and drinks counter where you can purchase, water, Ale’s or a Hot Buttered Rum, which I thought was a nice touch. Seating is general admission, there is a large open at one end rectangle of chairs running from the stage to the back of the room which forms the boundaries of the performance space. In the center of the this there are tables, chairs and benches which along with the stage area is where the actors will perform. I’d recommend sitting centered along one of the sides, I sat along the back and while for the most part I could see everything there was one point in which an actor stood with his back too me blocking my view of the action on and in front of the stage. Overall I enjoyed the immediacy brought to the play by sitting in such close proximity to the actors.
Rogue Prince focuses it’s plot on the relationship between Prince Hal, the future King Henry V and Sir John Falstaff: a fat, lying, cowardly yet undeniably charming Knight. The portions of Shakespeare’s plays dealing with aspects other than this primary relationship are present only in as much as they are needed to give that story context. King Henry IV must put down a rebellion, we are given the motivations and details of the rebellion so that when Prince Hal and Falstaff go off to battle we understand why. We are also given scenes with Henry IV expressing his displeasure with Prince Hal’s use of his time and the company he is keeping. When we see what that entails, robbery, drinking and other low activities we can understand his fathers frustration. Throughout the evening we see Hal grow from a wild young man to a King who is ready to take up the responsibilities of that position and turn his back on his wild ways and the rapscallion who taught him them. The Script which as adapted by Gary Briggle is influenced heavily by Orson Welles script for his film Chimes at Midnight, which likewise focuses on the relationship between Falstaff and Prince Hal. Briggle who along with co-directing the play with Wendy Lehr also stars as Sir John Falstaff. Like Welles’s film was to him, this play is clearly a passion project for Briggle.
Gary Briggle while not quite as large in height or girth as we are used to seeing our Falstaff’s he easily obscures that fact with his command of the language and understanding of the role. Briggle handily portrays all of the characteristics of Falstaff: his charm, his wit, his ridiculousness, his weariness and finally the heartbreak and betrayal when Hal turns him away. He covers all of these aspects and more and blends them seamlessly into a cohesive character that feels like more than the sum of his parts. He has a scene with Doll Tearsheet, a Prostitute whom he has an ongoing relationship played excellently by Anna Leverett. The purpose of the scene plot wise is for Hal to overhear Falstaff speaking ill of him. I found the interactions between Flastaff and Tearsheet in this scene to be an unexpected moment of quiet, like Falstaff taking a breathe and a break from being larger-than-life. This is Briggle’s show and he carries it nicely. The other standout is James Napoleon Stone as Prince Hal, who convincingly transforms from the aimless prank playing youth to a properly commanding king. All of the cast speak the lines like they understand them and that makes it very easy for us to adapt to Shakespeare’s language. The audience is never left wondering what is happening, And that is something the cast should be congratulated for.
The set in minimal, basically some tables and chairs and a bed, but it is all that is needed to convey the settings. Costuming was a little underwhelming, some looked like leftovers from the Renaissance Festival, Bardolf’s costume in particular struck me this way. But others conveyed what was needed effectively enough. I found King Henry’s costumes worked especially well, and costumes helped to emphasize the transformation of Hal as well. One issue that did arise, there are by my count 30 roles, played by 11 actors. For the most part I had little trouble keeping straight what characters were on stage with the exception of Damian Leverett’s characters Prince John of Lancaster and Poins. This is no mark against Leverett’s performances. This strikes me as a character that either has to be played by two different actors or there needs to be a more pronounced costume change. Both characters look the same and hang around Prince Hal at different times, and it’s very easy to assume they are the same person but have different names as do other characters i.e Hal/Harry/Henry and Sir John/Jack Falstaff.
Rogue Prince: Henry IV parts 1 and II runs through October 26th at Calvary Baptist Church in South Minneapolis tickets can be purchased at www.theatrecoupdetat.com.