February 4, 2005
Shakespeare's thrilling history play "Henry IV, Part 1" has the barreling momentum and lethal stakes of a good action film, but it doesn't play itself. It needs a strong, demonstrative vision to make it simmer and roar.
By design, the Classical Theatre Lab's new "Henry IV, Part 1 x 4" lacks such a single vision; instead it has four directors and a cast of 35. It's a daring exercise, but the result resembles a ponderous staged reading, albeit with higher production values.
We're basically seeing directorial tryouts for a fully realized production, and some are tantalizing. Director Greg Von Dare opts for a feudal Japanese setting, which might be more impressive if his actors looked more at ease in their samurai poses and swaddling kimonos. Only Trieu Tran's fiery Hotspur registers here.
Director Chad Restum handles his portion as unfussy, no-period epic theater. He has the advantage of a delightfully windy Falstaff (Carlos Carrasco), a hauntingly resolute Prince Hal (James Parks), and a slick but steely Hotspur (William Dixon), who's particularly good opposite Stuart W. Howard's pompous Glendower. And Kent Minault makes a stirring King Henry.
In the show's tastiest overlay, director Lawrence Peters sets his scenes in contemporary Houston. Some actors twang too broadly, but keepers in this Texas layover include Jayne Taini's blowsy Mistress Quickly, Karen Tarleton's breezy Archbishop, Paul Taviani's punkish, high-strung Hotspur (slyly evoking George W.), Mark Cross' coolly corporate monarch, Deanna Cordano's dry Vernon and the weary Worcester of Christopher Cappiello (a strong presence throughout).
Director Alexander Wells' unfortunate final battle features women in "Star Trek" couture, though his Hal (Susan Hanfield) and his Hotspur (Caitlin Prennace) do muster a decent fight. Like the rest of this tireless company, they get a good workout here. But who wants to watch a workout?
"Henry IV, Part 1 x 4," The Classical Theatre Lab at Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park, Martel Avenue between Fountain Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 6. (323) 960-5691. Suggested donation $10. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.