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Rascals and Royals

AE HenryComedy 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.

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written by Thomas Bigley, August 14, 2012
CHARLES PASTERNAK DOMINATES!

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Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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