Henry IV–Great River Shakespeare and a Girls’ Night Out

Part one.

Two acts.

And three hours passed in a breath.

Henry IV: another fine achievement for GRSF…and a fine way to spend the evening with the gal-pals.

We began in the late afternoon. Friends Andrea and Colette joined me for tapas and a bottle of wine at Chez Brandy… That is, my apartment on Broadway. To start, my vegetarian version of the small Spanish plates: grilled flatbread with goat cheese, fresh thyme, figs, red onions and balsamic reduction…and miniature quiches (mushroom and gruyere cheese). Andrea made some of the best chocolate-covered strawberries I’ve had in many a day, and Colette furnished an excellent white wine (Alsace). Conversation and light eats is always a good way to begin, but of course, we had further plans for the evening. Taking advantage of Winona’s Great River Shakespeare Festival, the three of us ventured to the Green for live pre-show Jazz (from the Not Just Jazz Quartet). But the main event for the evening was the work of Will: Henry IV, part one.

CAST of CHARACTERS: Henry, Lord John, Earl of Westmorland, Sir Walter, Prince Henry ‘Hal’, Falstaff (and Bardolph, Peto and Gadshill), Ned Poins, Earl of Northumberland, Earl of Wooster, Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Lady Percy, Mistress Quickly, Douglass, Glendower, Lord Mortimer and his Lady Wife and a number of smaller parts.

The first thing I want to mention is that, despite the length of the acts (1.5 hours each), the play never lagged. I found myself on the edge of my seat repeatedly–and not just for the fight scenes. Through the impassioned speeches of Henry Percy, the antics of Fat Falstaff and crew, the humor but also the drama of Prince Hal and his troubled relations with father and King, the actors delivered themselves of Shakespeare’s meter with such finesse that it was easy to forget myself. I fell headlong into the play, my emotions stirred and whisked and otherwise fluttered about.  The characters came alive with none of the stilted talk that occasionally accompanies performances of Shakespeare’s wordier scenes.

And a word about those scenes. As with Midsummer, the set was created more through the characters’  comportment in it than through props. The Boar’s Head Tavern easily becomes the throne room of Henry or of Glendower (and the ‘magical’ lighting of the runes was an excellent touch). To set the epic nature of these scenes, however, the cast became our storytellers. In a humorous and well executed prelude, the entire crew came out to give us the ‘back story’ (wherein they turned their backs on the audience…clever, clever!) From the sound effects to the occasional doubling of scenes (as when Douglass fights Falstaff while Percy and the Prince face off), the performance provided a round, full sense of the play-world. I have, in my memory, things which I know I did not in fact see–whole hillsides and castles come fresh to mind, all suggested by the hints of back-lit screens and distant scuffles.

But lest the play itself, with its bloody fight scenes and dramatic conclusion, not be enough for the avid theater-goer, the GRSF provides something more: Discussion. At right, the Acoustic Cafe (coffee shop–see Destination Winona Page for more information). Here, the actors gather on Saturday mornings at 10am to answer questions and to talk about the performances. The room was packed today, almost every seat taken, and I was not the only person impressed with Glendower’s runes. It was the first question asked (How did you do that? Answer: magic, of course).

I may be accused of over-zealousness in my accumulating praise of this small Minnesota town. But with such magnificent performances… And with such magnificent women to attend them with, you can scarcely blame me for turning Victorian Romantic about it. Next stop: King Lear (a performance undertaken by the understudies and other assistants to GRSF.)

And perhaps a cocktail and brilliant discourse among the gals at Chez Brandy while we are at it.

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