Review of Henry IV Part 1
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Skylar Evans

Petaluma Shakespeare Company
Tickets: Free Admission (donations appreciated)
Foundry Wharf, 2nd & H Streets
Petaluma, CA

RUN: August 25 – September 9, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

Henry IV Petaluma Shakespeare

Sir Walter Blunt (Matthew Leffel), King Henry IV (Neil Thollander) and Harry Percy (Ryan Whitlock) debate loyalty. Photo by Oliver Wenz.

(September 1, 2017)

On the edge of Petaluma’s downtown waterfront is an enclosed lawn overlooking the river at Foundry Wharf, with dramatic staircases, benches, and plantings that create a natural set for the play. Director Skylar Evans uses the environment to enhance scenes, whether for comedic effect with Falstaff drunkenly running into the grove of trees or guards descending smartly down the staircase with eyes peeled for danger, like the modern day secret service.

Shakespeare’s history plays involve complicated political shenanigans interspersed with wanton exploits to keep the audience entertained. Sarah Passemar’s color schemed costume designs establish who belongs to which faction—white for the Percys, red and black for Henry IV, and green for the Welsh.

It helps to have a rough background of the time period; the Percys assisted Henry IV in becoming king, and they feel that he owes them for that allegiance, the Scottish are discontented with the English in general, and Owain Glyndŵr (Glendower in Shakespeare’s version) has become frustrated enough with England’s chokehold on Wales to take up arms. They form a dubious alliance against Henry IV and his son, who will become Henry V. Welcome to the rat’s nest of political intrigue that paved the way for the Wars of the Roses.

In this production, roles have been distributed between men and women, evening out the gender gap present in history plays. It did not seem out of place, in fact Alexis Evon as Glendower brought a nobility and poise to the role that is rarely seen when presenting the Welsh royal. The setting is contemporary with a vintage edge to it in the costuming, and beautiful swords by Weapons of Choice that fight choreographer Barton Smith put to good use during the battle sequences.

Henry IV - Petaluma Shakespeare Company

Prince Hal’s nefarious companions. Photo by Oliver Wenz.

Neil Thollander’s powerhouse Henry IV thunders his way through scenes, making you believe he truly is the king. Political rival Harry “Hotspur” Percy is undeterred, with a passionate display of rash heroism from Ryan Whitlock. Their clash creates tense, exciting scenes that would otherwise be static strategy discussions. Around them, family members and allies scheme to an extent that would impress Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones.

Young and fiery Anya Cherniss is a punk inspired Prince Hal, sporting leather jackets and glugging down bottles of wine when not making sport of Sir John Falstaff, portrayed with bumbling magnificence by Nicolas Christenson. Their energetic antics keep the audience laughing in between serious political scenes, and Falstaff’s “Platypus” style bottle filled with alcohol was a stroke of genius.

This free production is good fun and a rarely performed play that is a treat for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Arrive early and bring your own chairs or blanket to sit on; there is plenty of parking at Foundry Wharf. Laugh with Falstaff and Prince Hal, pick a faction to cheer for in the fight over England’s throne, and enjoy Shakespeare’s wit in this thought provoking play.