by Bianca Spriggs

“Oh Jesu! He doth it as like one of these harlotry players, as ever I see”—Mistress Quickly, Henry IV

Although there’s been a bang-up article about Summerfest this past week, as an actor in one of the shows, Henry IV, I’d like to personally invite you to our play which opens tonight and goes through Sunday.  I’ve had the pleasure of acting in the Arboretum plays since I was 17 years old, and usually under the direction of Joe Ferrell, who is always at the helm of something from the Bard.  I’ve played some pretty diverse characters including one of the witches from Macbeth, Iago’s wife, Emilia in Othello, and Cleo’s right-handmaiden, Charmian in last year’s Antony and Cleopatra.  When I auditioned for Henry, a show that boasts only three women characters amid a gaggle of men, one of which only speaks Welsh, I knew I wanted to play Mistress Quickly, the hostess of a tavern called The Boar’s Head situated in Eastcheap. 

So, this is one of Shakespeare’s histories, right?  I know some of you all are already having nervous flashbacks from high-school or college English and holding your breath for next week’s musical, Once On This Island, or even the following week’s contemporary play, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  But Joe Ferrell is a wiz at bringing out both the light and shadow elements of even a Shakespearean History to endear an audience further to the characters’ plights and what is ultimately at stake, in this case, a kingdom.  Yes, there will be archaic English.  Yes, there’s a lot of talking about foes and wars and so on.  But this story is quintessential buildungsroman.  No one captures the timeless angst of identity and coming of age and rebellion against the status quo like Shakespeare. 

Speaking of rebellion, this play is lousy with it at both micro and macro levels.  The most obvious, of course, is the rebellion led by the Percy family and Hotspur who are displeased with King Henry IV, after all, they helped overthrow his predecessor.  Now, they wish to be shown favor.  This discrepancy results in a division of state and the subsequent civil war with the Percy family which has gathered allies from Wales and Scotland along with various English noblemen and clergy who are also displeased with the king.

Then, there is the underscore plot of Hal (Henry V), who initially rails against his father’s expectations and his proper role as Prince of Wales.  He hangs out with a bunch of criminals and ne’er-do-well’s including his current father-figure, the worldly and boorish Sir John Falstaff at ye aulde tavern.  Hal and his gang drink and caper and pass the time regaling one another with comedic reenactments of posing as highwaymen (well, they’re not actually posing since they actually rob travelers).

And of course, there is Sir John Falstaff, who even during war, carries a flask in his holster where his pistol should be.  Falstaff’s very nature is to rebel against all propriety.  He tells falsehoods, he drinks far too much sack (sherry) and sugar, and his ego weighs more than he! But we like him because there is no pretense with Falstaff.  He is who he is, whether he’s in a tavern common room or on a battlefield. 

As if you needed more reasons to lay out a blanket under the stars, light your bug-repellent candle, and break out the wines and cheeses, there are also some really fun tavern scenes with plenty of slapstick, superbly wrought acting, breathtaking fight choreography, gorgeous costumes ripe with color and texture, fabulous set and light design, and a pulse-pounding score.  This is outdoor theater at its best, folks.  I bid you enjoy the show!