OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Even to Shakespeare lovers, the history plays are often shunned. The tragedies are more prestigious; the comedies are far more fun. But the histories—well ? They tend to sound somewhat pedantic, often just ba little preachy. And then there are all those characters—real characters, most with Roman numerals. So Joe Discher’s current production of “Henry IV, Part I,” which opens the 50th season at The Shakespeare Theatre, on the campus of Drew University in Madison, may give you a terrific shock, followed by an entirely new perspective.
In the first place it is a huge undertaking: two dozen actors—on a superb set (credit Jonathan Wentz, back in Madison for his second season,) costumed superbly by Paul H. Canada (his third season) and lit by Matthew E. Adelson (his 15th year.) Director Discher is celebrating his 22nd year with the company (Do you begin to sense a trend here?) And, further, Mr. Discher is looking forward to the autumn when his production of “Romeo and Juliet” will be staged in Milan, Italy.
Here he has set very high standards, beginning with a cast that has not a blemish down the line. The work demands acting on all levels, including the strongest comic part of all in Falstaff. Veteran John Arlin (his fifth season) has played the role multiple times—in all three of the works that Falstaff appears, and he finds not only the obvious and more sensitive fun in the role, but also the meat (his “honor” speech, for example, has rarely been as nicely fashioned) He never overplays, not an easy task. Derek Wilson (seventh year) is a wonderful Prince Hal, Prince of Wales, beginning with the ne’er-do-well opening scenes and reaching full power and authority as the evening unfolds.