As Carl Cofield states in his director's notes about "Henry IV, Part Two," the play is not about the spectacle and wars of "Henry IV, Part One." Rather, it's about internal battles — those battles that surround the evolution of relationships, conscience and, most importantly, the battle for the Crown of England, with the maturation of Prince Hal (Daniel Jose Molina) as the central idea behind that transition. Henry IV (Jeffrey King) is already exhausted by power — "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
Cofield's take on this excellent history play is a strong one, with sparse but effective production values — a modernist, strobe-afflicted, steel-poled arena again serves as the staging ground for all sorts of mischief, with characters scheming and cajoling their way through avalanches of palace intrigue. Whether pulling knives and guns, or using their wit and wisdom to duel their way into positions of proximity and influence, this group is riveting to watch. Overlooking all the action is an outsized, velvet covered Throne of England, an ever-present invocation of the ultimate power of the monarch.
"Henry IV, Part One," seen earlier this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was wonderfully rendered. "Part Two" is even better. Whether this is a result of a deepening story arc, or a deft hand at the director's table, who knows, but the play is an excellent and satisfying evening of theater. Much of the best talent at OSF is on full display. Tyrone Wilson has been reliably replacing G. Valmont Thomas in the role of Falstaff since the run began. For reasons evidently private and certainly not to be revealed here, Mr. Thomas remains in absentia. When I first saw the play in the opening week, Mr. Wilson was not sufficiently prepared. That has changed. His Falstaff is everything one could hope for — a sly, hilarious, barreling figure of epic proportion. Wilson conveys the strange and unsettling mischief that is so essential to the contradictory character of Sir John. His performance in the role is the moveable feast by which much of the play is sustained.
In numerous roles throughout the performance, Alejandra Escalante again proves why she is the esoteric girl-crush of so many national theater reviewers. Popping up all over the stage like some sort of method-trained Whac-A-Mole, Ms. Escalante features variously as a servant, a royal, a mystic and a working girl. Her portrayal of Doll Tearsheet is a brilliant little bit of acting, unnervingly nuanced and discreetly pained. Watch her closely and be rewarded.
As Prince Hal, Mr. Molina continues to shine on his path towards the upper echelons of the festival's acting company. In a sense, his evolution from prince to king is a metaphor for Molina's solidifying career as a stage actor to be reckoned with. We look forward to seeing what he does in in the titular role of Henry V when the 2018 season opens.
Also worthy of a lengthier mention is Michele Mais, who plays Mistress Quickly (the owner of the Boar's Head tavern) as a sort of coked-up Lucy Ricardo. Her impeccable comic timing and powerful stage presence are a terrific counterbalance to Wilson's Falstaff. It was particularly pleasing to watch her belt out passages of Shakespeare in song, crooned through her microphone, Shirley Bassey-style.
King is convincingly contained and regal as Henry. Yi Shoshtrom, a young actor perhaps not quite through middle school, is impressive in her role as Falstaff's page. Robin Goodrin Nordli in the role of Lady Northumberland pokes fun at her own severity, coming off as an austere school principal who has been beamed down into 15th century England.
"Henry IV, Part Two" is potent, polished, entertaining, and well-executed. See it now and be happy that you did.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.