note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sara Itkis
“What is honor?”
These were Sir John Falstaff’s words in the fifth act of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV. What is honor? In this play, presented by the Actors Shakespeare Company (ASP), honor is the force driving the plot and characters. For King Henry IV (Joel Colodner), honor means legitimate power and a benign reign. His questionable claim to the throne torments him throughout the play as he struggles to fight against a rebellion similar to the one that placed him in the throne of King Richard II. For quick-tempered Hotspur, energetically portrayed by Allyn Burrows, honor means defending his name against any hint of insult or degradation; it means bravery and skill on the battlefield; and it ultimately leads to his destruction. For Prince Hal (Bill Barclay), the son of King Henry and heir to the throne, honor means reputation and nobility. His relationship with honor is ambiguous; over the course of the play, he moves from spending days drinking and sleeping around in the taverns of England, to fighting gallantly on his father’s behalf against the rebellion.
For Falstaff, brilliantly played by Robert Walsh, honor is nothing but a word. This disreputable knight, who is the negative influence on Prince Hal and who has an enormous gusto for life and its pleasures, is above and beyond the play. Like Hamlet, he is a bigger-than-life character to whom the rules that dominate the others do not apply. The entire driving force of the plot is, in his opinion, nothing more than air. Fat Falstaff is just in for the fun, and he knows that honor won’t do him any good in that respect.
This fascinating character was only one of the handful of colorful and excellently portrayed figures in ASP’s Henry IV Part I. Several members of the Maimonides School Drama Club went to see the production during a morning matinee, thanks to the permission and collaboration of General Studies Principal Mrs Boroschek.
As usual, ASP managed to pull the audience into the play from the very start. In their unique, personal style, the members of the actors’ guild began the production off of the stage, sitting on the level of the audience while actress Bobbie Steinbach recited verses of introduction, inviting the viewers to enhance the story-telling with their own imagination. Throughout the play, the room, full of high school teens, rang with laughter at all the jokes and was full of rapturous silence at the moments of high drama. All the music and sound effects were provided by the actors themselves, and the props were basic - all contributing to an atmosphere of straight, unembellished story-telling. This simple approach made the audience focus their undetracted attention on the characters and their relationships. Falstaff and Prince Hal, Hal and his father, Hotspur and his wife, Lady Quickly (Sarah Newhouse) --- all were alive and real, natural and physical, funny and touching.
The Coveted Crown: Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2
with Prologue & Epilogue from Richard II & Henry V
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Patrick Swanson
September 29 - November 21
15 Channel Center Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or actorsshakespeareproject.org