Review: ‘Henry IV, Part I’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Intrigue! Battles! History! Excitement! In a stunningly entertaining display of stagecraft, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s Henry IV, Part I features three of the best performances you’ll see this year: the swaggering and rebellious Gerrad Alex Taylor as Harry “Hotspur” Percy; Séamus Miller as Prince Henry aka Prince Hal; and the always spectacular Gregory Burgess as one of Shakespeare’s most loved characters, Sir John Falstaff.

Séamus Miller as Prince Hal and Gregory Burgess as Sir John Falstaff in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of 'Henry IV, Part I.' Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Séamus Miller as Prince Hal and Gregory Burgess as Sir John Falstaff in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Henry IV, Part I.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Director Ian Gallanar has directed a brilliant treatment of the 14th-century adventures of the young Prince Hal, aka the Prince of Wales (and later Henry V), as he fought a power struggle with Harry “Hotspur” Percy, a rebel against England’s King Henry IV. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) is offering both Henry IV, Part I & Part II back-to-back with Part II (directed by Gallanar and Taylor, a CSC Associate Artistic Director) opening March 15th. There’s an opportunity for audiences to see both shows in repertory Saturdays March 16, 23 and 30.

There were several distinguished scenes in this play. The play-within-a-play scene, Act I, Scene 3, between Prince Hal and Falstaff in the Boar’s Head Inn, was a study in interplay between Burgess and Miller, including much banter and insults. Burgess, who has also played in CSC’s The Fantasticks and Richard III, brought all the expected facial and physical nuances to the overweight, braggartly Falstaff.

Taylor (who directed CSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Hotspur, raised both the stakes and his voice high in the scene with Lady Kate Percy (Elana Michelle) Act II, Scene 3: “Away, away, you trifler! Love? I love thee not; I care not for thee, Kate!” Act 5, Scene 1 was made brilliant by Ron Heneghan as King Henry IV, especially in his interaction with Prince Hal as they discussed war with Hotspur.

Michael Crowley made the Earl of Worcester vivid. Keith Snipes made the Earl of Northumberland studious; Scott Alan Small made Bardolph a comical, big-nosed compadre to Falstaff.

Tamieka Chavis, as a messenger, enlivened her scenes with Miller. Chavis also appeared in CSC’s The TempestLance Bankerd entertained as Ned Poins, Prince Hal’s friend.

Casey Kaleba’s fight choreography was superb, and played out in a series of one-on-one duels between key characters. The sword and axe strikes appeared fearsome because they were timed with minimal margin for error. Kaleba, in his CSC debut, is a Certified Teacher and Fight Director with the Society of American Fight Directors. Properties Designers Alexander Rothschild and Willow Watson gave the duelers impressive weapons.

Gerrad Alex Taylor as Harry
Gerrad Alex Taylor as Harry “Hotspur” Percy and Séamus Miller as Prince Hal in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘Henry IV, Part I.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Lighting Designer Katie McCreary projected maps of England–Game of Thrones style–on high wooden walls designed by Scenic Designer Daniel O’Brien. The projected maps gave the audience a good idea of the action that unfurled during the England of 1402 to 1403. Costume Designer Heather C. Jackson put handsome-looking jerkins and medieval wrist guards on several of the characters. Chavis’ blouse and skirt were spot-on.

Music Director Grace Srinivasan had plenty to do in this show: members of the cast provided music before the show, including songs such as “I Care Not for These Ladies,” “Fain Would I Wed,” “Come All Ye,” and “Three Ravens.”

I appreciated how Gallanar made use of CSC’s ornate, three-quarter-thrust stage. Many of the entrances and exits were made from down house left and right, past the audience. Gallanar’s players had freedom to roam the space–making conversations organic. A good example of this was the comedic Act II, Scene 3, that involved hapless travelers, menacing thieves, and a clueless Falstaff.

With subplots and plots in abundance, Henry IV, Part I has much to offer theater-goers. With Part II on the way, there will be more where that came from. As Gallanar put it: “These are two terrific plays.”

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Henry IV, Part I plays through March 30, 2019, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 244-8570, or purchase them online.

Note: For a limited time, take advantage of early-bird pricing: Order Parts I and II as a package now and save 30% off regular ticket prices.

DJ Batchelor, John of Lancaster/Gadshill; Molly Moores, Duke of Gloucester/Lady Northumberland/Vernon/Davy; Kathryne Daniels, Earl of Warwick/Peto; Steven J. Hoochuk, Earl of Westmoreland/Fang/Ralph Mouldy; Brendan Murray, Sir Walter Blunt/Lord Chief of Justice; Bart Debicki, Owen Glendower/Lord Henry Hastings/Chamberlain; Nello DeBlasio, Archibald, Earl of Douglas/Scroop, Archbishop of York/Sheriff; Briana Manente, Lord Bardolph/Vintner/Simon Shadow; Ashly Fishell-Shaffer, Doll Tearsheet