By Jordan Wright (Photo/Scott Suchman)
It’s right after an Act 1 filled with doom and gloom that “Henry IV, Part 2” takes a comedic turn, and not a moment too soon. After all, we’ve just learned that Wales and Scotland want revenge for King Henry IV’s crime of treason.
On top of that, the play opens with a lightning-fast repartee between the king, John of Lancaster and the Earl of Westmoreland. It’s enough to rock any theatergoer who might not know the lay of the land back on their feet.
And remember, it’s all about the land. The king’s tormented conscience for stealing Mortimer’s rightful throne and his crusade to make things right — which goes horribly wrong — drives the plot.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown indeed.
But here we have a break from the machinations of royalty. Enter the Prince of Wales (better known as Hal and/or Harry) and his loyal follower Falstaff. Stacy Keach returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in the grandiloquent role of Hal’s cohort and comrade-in-arms.
Falstaff, one of the most endearing and sympathetic characters in all of Shakespeare, is the lovable scallywag and epitome of a crusty ne’er-do-well. Keach plays him to a hilt, squeezing every last bit out of his lines, morphing into the character.
He owns the role. The man is marvelous.
Alas, poor Falstaff, ever the underdog, is repeatedly called every colorful name in the Bard’s lexicon in describing his ungainly figure.
“That huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox,” Hal affectionately calls him.
There is much to praise about the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s engaging production: the exquisite costumes of silk, fur, leather and chainmail by Ann Hould-Ward; the swordplay direction by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet; the original, period-inspired music composed by Michael Roth, including a tender Welsh ballad sung by Lady Mortimer (Vanessa Sterling); and the remarkably magnetic Matthew Amendt, who plays Prince Hal. Amendt brims with irresistible charm, keeping the energy level, as well as the cast, in high gear.
Other standouts include Craig Wallace, who provides an elegant portrait of the swaggering Earl of Westmoreland; John Keabler, the sexiest Hotspur alive; Kelley Curran as his wife, Lady Percy, as alluring a liberated woman as ever there was; and, of course, Edward Gero in the powerhouse role of King Henry IV. Be sure to look for scene-stealer Ted van Griethuysen, who simply kills it as Justice Shallow.
“King Henry IV, Part 2” runs through June 8 at Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.