May 28, 2004





'Henry IV': Belly up to the bar, boys


If a production of "King Henry IV, Part One" could succeed simply on the strength of its Falstaff, Circle X's new production would be a knockout. In Jerry Kernion's richly drawn, finely nuanced performance, Shakespeare's lazy, lying, loveable fool is fully hilarious and faintly sad.


This "sweet creature of bombast" presides generously over drunken revels in the Eastcheap tavern where young Prince Hal (David Paul Wichert) is slumming and sowing oats. Under director Tara Flynn, the show's most beautifully realized moments come when this unlikely mentor's indomitable good humor is momentarily shocked into submission by his young charge's steely will.


The rest of the show, alas, is less fully realized. Flynn stages all too many machinations of Hal's s father the king (Patrick Gorman) and assorted allies and enemies on and around an ungainly half-circled ramp at one end of Shakespeare Festival/LA's s broad, low-ceilinged space. Designed by David Holmes, this distancing platform is awkwardly framed by a parade float's s worth of white roses.


That historical allusion, along with most of the history related in this history play, is likely to be lost on the young theatergoers for whom this production is ostensibly designed as part of a National Endowment for the Arts program. It's a shame, since Prince Hal's entertaining coming-of-age saga makes a terrific youthful introduction to Shakespeare.


But from its players' largely undistinguished delivery to costumer Ela Erwin's s early "Star Trek" tunics and boots, from a series of static face-offs to the clanging, shouting, lights-flashing battle climax, this "Henry," unlike the play's s prodigal prince, goes astray whenever it leaves Eastcheap.

--Rob Kendt


"King Henry IV, Part One," Circle X Theatre Company at Shakespeare Festival/LA Studio, 1238 W. 1st St., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 6. Free, but reservations required and canned-food donation requested. (213) 975-9891. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.