Intrigue for the royal crown, practical jokes, battles and more make "Henry IV, part 1," staged by Ohio Shakespeare Festival, a breathless ride from start to finish.
Shakespeare's history play, which Ohio Shakespeare Festival officially opened Aug. 1, is a somewhat fictionalized story on the start of the infamous War of the Roses, which began with the crowning of King Henry IV in 1399. The family tree and notes the theater provides along with the cast list is almost not necessary, given the skill the actors have in relaying the story. However, it is a helpful tool in not only clueing in theatergoers on what is happening on stage, (not to mention keeping straight the numerous historic figures), but the notes on the history leading up to the events in the play gives the audience a succinct background on why things are the way they are.
Again, Ohio Shakespeare Festival has taken The Bard's work and made it easily accessible. The pace is good, with a lot of humor interspersed with the courtly intrigues, culminating in a well-choreographed battle scene at the end.
In the play, King Henry IV (David McNees) hasn't had much time to enjoy his newly-earned crown. There's trouble from the Scots and the Welsh, as well as problems from Henry Percy (Joe Pine), nicknamed "Hotspur." Henry Percy, who feels betrayed by the current monarch and is pressing his own claim to the crown, is seeking an alliance with Scotland and Wales to overthrow Henry IV. Henry IV admires Hotspur's prowess in the battlefield -- even if the hotheaded young nobleman is rebelling against him, and laments over his own son, "Prince Hal." Hal (Andrew Cruse) has no interest in politics, instead preferring to spend his time with Sir John Falstaff (Terry Burgler), Poins (Geoff Knox) and Falstaff's other motley gang of thieves, drunks and ne'er-do-wells.
Falstaff's large living and penchant for exaggeration make up most of the humor in the show, and Burgler milks every bit of humor from his lines, to great effect. Pine's Hotspur is electric, full of energy. Cruse's Hal undergoes an interesting transformation from someone who prefers the lowly tavern scene to a young prince (and later Henry V) who steps up when he realizes he is instrumental in helping keep the country together.
Speaking of "Henry V," Ohio Shakespeare Festival has announced that this sequel to "Henry IV" will be staged next summer, with much of the same cast reprising their roles, including Cruse.
"Henry IV, part 1" can be seen through Aug. 17. Shows start at 8 p.m., with the Greenshow at 7:30 p.m. Those attending really should try to catch the Greenshow, especially for the condensed version of "Cymbeline."
Shows are staged on the grounds of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path in Akron.
For details, visit www.ohioshakespeare.com or call 330-673-8761.