Bawdy and romantic, heroic and redemptive, Cal Rep’s production of 445: Shakespeare’s Henry, conceived and directed by Thomas P. Cooke at the Studio Theatre, is a bold incursion into the intersection of the historical and the personal.
It tells the compelling story of ne’er do well President, I mean Prince, known to his barfly chums as Hal (Josh Nathan), who becomes King Henry V. Along the way he overcomes his propensity to party and pull pranks in the company of such rapscallion riff-raff as John Falstaff (Debbie Taylor), much to the chagrin of his father, King Henry IV (Donald Formaneck).
Eventually, Hal amends his errant ways and leads England to victory over France in the Battle of Agincourt.
With great aplomb Cooke melds the salient bits from the first two parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the Bard’s Henry V. Hence the title. If it wasn’t so seamlessly done – if it didn’t tell such a taut and powerful story – we could dismiss it as the triumph of technique over narration, as something, dare I say it, French and deconstructionist.
Instead we have two story lines that resolve in a glorious battle and the ever exquisite Kiss Me Kate (Princess Katharine – Beth Froehlich) scene.
First I commend the minimal set. I don’t know if Maureen Weiss conceived it as such but the opening sequence, in which all 13 characters sit in chairs which hover to the back of the stage, was a stroke of genius. From the opening, the story presented itself as a game of chess coiled with all manner of gambits, openings, and sacrifices. Warriors fought their battles with clashing tables that made me think of Rock-em Sock-em robots. Blood pooled in rivulets of red light. Excellent!
Second I commend the cast as a whole, well-knit, colorful like a tapestry; and especially three performances that will keep you coming back for a little more Harry in the night.
Formaneck’s Henry IV was formidable and stubborn, not a little proud and, thus, not a little tragic. He appeared all the more kingly when compared to his rakish son.
Nathan’s Hal was credible as a rogue and he was even more credible as a king. Witness how his tone of voice changes in the scene when Falstaff the bum hied to freeload off his newly-crowned pal, Hal, who thereupon ordered him to keep a distance of no less than ten miles between them.
Marvel, too, at Taylor's Falstaff. Bigger than life, more expansive than the time in which he lived, she made him a metaphor for living in the moment, even when the moment passes and friends from a former era morph into someone else and you’re left holding your tankard of grog, agog.
Performances are Tue – Thu, 7 PM, Fri & Sat, 8 PM, and Sat, March 10, 2 PM. The show runs until March 10. Tickets are $15-20. The Theatre is located in the Theatre Arts Building on the Cal State campus. For more information call 985-5526 or visit ww.calrep.org.