Henry IV, Pts. 1 & 2; Live Arts; Through May 22

Bard lovers often want to disassemble Shakespeare’s histories and stitch them back together in new ways. Orson Welles did so in his brilliant, but obscure, Chimes at Midnight. Now Sara Holdren, our local Shakespearean cotter pin, brings a fresh take on Henry IV with Live Arts’ new production. 

It’s not often that Live Arts delves into Shakespeare, perhaps because of an oversupply of quality stock in the region. Playwright and director Sara Holdren leads a strong cast through her take on the Henry histories.

Holdren, here serving as interpreter, director, costumer, properties artisan, stage manager, graphic designer and marketing coordinator, is a gifted auteur. It must be a labor of love to truncate the two Henry IV texts so carefully. Everything is still here: the warrior posturing, the backstabbing, the heartbreak. Holdren even managed to retain all of the jokes about how fat and drunk Falstaff is.

The cast is woven with talent. Holdren wicks robust, clear performances from each actor. Sam Reeder, whom we last saw in Play On! Theatre’s Arcadia in a spotty, but promising performance, truly delivers here. Likewise, Nick Heiderstadt, who is much too young to be playing Falstaff, squarely deals every hand of humor and pathos. Josephine Stewart, also of Arcadia, navigates her multiple roles delightfully; one moment, she is the blinkingly naive Mistress Quickly and another, a stoic Sir Blunt, hiding beneath a Frisch’s Big Boy cowlick. Unassuming Scott Keith pounces into his portrayals of Hotspur and Pistol, focused and energetic. Fawn-eyed Laura Rikard, an electrifying performer, is on stage too little. The ensemble surges along at a rolling boil, yet takes time to play delicate moments with the precision and intimacy of hand embroidery. Oh, and you will find that they are also endearing singers.

Experience tells me that “scenery design” in Live Arts’ UpStage space is a fool’s errand. (I designed the set for Flyin’ West for UpStage in 2008.) Once the requisite chairs are in place, there is little room left to perform a play. Keith, also as set designer, gives us merely a door and two platforms. It’s more than enough. Costumes by Tricia Emlet, are, as always, top-shelf, though Keith does eventually appear in a fez and codpiece. Thanks to lighting designer Carin Edwards-Orr for only a single blackout during the entire evening. I appreciated the sound design of Jamie Coupar; strange, clever, moody

There is little to kvetch about, except, of course, the running time. At a neatly hemmed three hours with one intermission, it’s a bladder buster. But, the only remedy would be at the expense of content or momentum. Pattern your evening accordingly. 

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