I had hardly a doubt that Antaeus Theatre Company could pull off their 2015 season opener, a streamlined version of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, directed by Michael Murry. When I merely entered and viewed the space, I immediately got the feeling that my sentiments would be confirmed. The set was bare yet superbly dressed with perfect simple lighting, an unobstructed raised wood floor, minimal set pieces and a dark overhead back wall mural of the cosmos. Tone and breadth established, there was no need for anything else to be done but the actors to walk on and speak.
To say Antaeus’ style with classical material is unique to the company, intellectual, heady, perfected in speech would be to praise them for their natural extraordinary qualities. The “partner casting” whereby two actors share every role, a company tradition, in this case has created symmetry.
Notwithstanding, that I would have preferred more chemistry between some of the players and a Falstaff who was less pulled back in projection which affected other cast members momentarily towards the end of the first act, but was in every other way, remarkable, or a much more fiercesome Bollingbrook, or a bit more emotional range from both Percy and his wife Kate, would critically overlook the fact that this company’s Henry IV delivered with absolute clarity and bold muscularity throughout and especially in the second act battle scenes.
For the uninitiated, Henry IV is a history play, one of the most popular written by William Shakespeare and is the second in a tetralogy dealing the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2) and Henry V. Henry IV depicts a span of history that begins with Hotspur’s (Henry Percy’s) battle at Holmidon against the Douglas in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. Part comedy, part tragedy, part growing-up tale of youthful rebellion, Antaeus’ Henry IV asks the question, “What does it mean to become a man?”
Antaeus wholly actualized a tightly sewn presentation led by a spectacular Ramón de Ocampo who drove the events no less impressively here as Hal, as he did in a prior performance of Oedipus, which was my first view of him, and by a thoroughly indecorous Gregory Itzin as Falstaff.
One other actor’s work really stood out for me. Adam J. Smith as Mortimer married complete fluidity with the text and a tremendous emotional register and brought the kind of heightened experience that I always hope for in a classical piece. I was inspired to hurriedly dart through my program in the dark no less to highlight his name.
March 12th’s Rogue Cast:
King Henry: James Sutorious
Hal: Ramón de Ocampo
Hotspur: Joe Holt
Falstaff: Gregory Itzin
Westmoreland/Glendower/1st Traveler: Joe Hulser
Northumberland/Bardolph/Chamberlain: Marcelo Tubert
Poins/Douglas/Aide: Jason Turner
Worcester/Sheriff: Tony Amendola
Blunt/Mortimer/Peto/ 2nd Carrier: Adam J. Smith
Gadshill/Lady Mortimer/Messenger: Tro Shaw
Quickly/Vernon/2nd Traveler: Elizabeth Dennehy
Lady Percy/1st Carrier: Desiree Mee Jung
Scenic design: François-Pierre Couture
Lighting design: Michael Gend
Costume design: Terri A. Lewis
Sound design: Peter Bayne
Props design: Adam Meyer
Fight choreography: Ken Merck
Dramaturge: Armin Shimerman
Assistant Directors: Maureen Lee Lenker and Rachel Berney Needleman
Assistant Stage Managers: Anne Kelly and Emily Lehrer
Production Stage Manager: Kristin Weber