Press - Henry IV

...a fast-moving, rollicking tale full of heart and panache

Paul Davis


The Rude Mechanicals deserve our respect for their tireless efforts to interpret and reinterpret the classics

Amy Kotkin

DC Metro Theater Arts

Review: Henry IV Parts I & II at The Rude Mechanicals

by Paul Davis, Theatrebloom

Before Luke Skywalker becomes a man, he started out hanging out with an old man and a pack of ne’r do wells in a crap bar while his dad and more useful sibling were out there ruling the universe. George Lucas snagged a page from Shakespeare and made it his own into the form we know and love today. The Rude Mechanicals have taken this tumultuous two-part history of Henry IV about life, death, responsibility, and consequences, and shaped it into a fast-moving, rollicking tale full of heart and panache but without the Jar Jar.

The setting is sparse but multifunctional; this aptly splits the stage into a light side and a dark side. A table and chairs mark the addlepated crowd at Mistress Quickly’s (Jaki Demarest) speakeasy’s home turf. Where the king of the moment is Sir John Falstaff (Wayne de Cesar), and Prince Hal (Evan Ockershausen) is the jester. Like a drunken Obi Wan Kenobi, Falstaff regales the crew of his fictional exploits pointedly marred by arrogant if accurate jabs from Hal.

All in all a good time is had and some of Shakespeare’s greatest insults are hurled with aplomb and fluidity. With a fluid shift in lighting by designer Jeff Poretsky, the other side of the stage refocuses the audience’s attention on the regal King Henry IV, (Sam David) who wrestles with her son Hal’s foolish youth while juggling the galling demands of Henry Percy “Hotspur” (Erin MacDonald), Worcester (Melissa Schick), and Northumberland (Carol Calhoun). At the ready with reactions that perfectly assess the mood in the room is Lancaster (Rebecca Korn).

David gives a strong and nuanced performance as the titular character drawing the audience into her struggle of ruling and being a parent facing the end of her life. This push and pull across the stage builds as the act’s momentum comes to a spectacular climax when Hal faces his demons and his responsibilities at the same time. Ockershausen shows great depth throughout the play but really shines in the battle and aftermath of facing Percy. MacDonald hits all the high notes of a passionate and disparate man, never holding back even in her last moments. Schick’s Worcester is sly and devilish with an understated smile that grimly defines her plotting and scheming.

Demarest and de Cesar are forces of nature on the stage capturing character and audience with deep, emotional potency and skill not to be missed. Calhoun’s Northumberland rages, eyes closed to the world and gripping the audience with a clenched decisiveness that cements her convictions. The supporting cast is strong and playful: Poins (Charlie Green), Bardolph (Ray Wallis), Doll (Maureen Dawson), Gadshill (Lynda Clark), and the set-chewing Sheriff (Eric Honour) fill the play with all too human reactions as each deals with the situation at hand with considerable skill and variety.


Joshua Engel, as the show’s Director, and Liana Olear, the Assistant Director, have shaped this script into a laser-point that penetrates the layers of the play without burning away the greatness. There is a hint of Gatsby in the theme, music, and costumes (appropriated by Trevor Jones) but it is understated and overpowered by the performances of the cast. They could have been wearing burlap sacks and it would still move the heart. Nothing feels out of place, and the flow of the story is so solid that it never feels muddled or congested.

Review: ‘Henry IV Parts I & II’ at The Rude Mechanicals

by Amy Kotkin, DC Metro Theater Arts

Over 17 years, The Rude Mechanicals, a local theater company specializing in classic works, has made its way through nearly all of Shakespeare’s enduring canon. After the current production of Henry IV, Parts I & II, they will have only four left to conquer, including, just by chance, both Henry V and Richard II.

At the combined Henry IV production, which takes place at the tiny, inventive Highwood Theatre in Silver Spring, MD, we are not so much an audience as we are guests at a banquet – seated on opposite sides of long, narrow risers that remind us of a stately table – with the austere English throne at one end and a sloppy assemblage of tables, chairs and props symbolizing the Boar’s Head Tavern at the other. Prince Hal’s choices are thus clear from the very start.

Love, loyalty, despair, and death play out along the ‘banquet’ risers over the action of Shakespeare’s twin tales, condensed in this instance into a single performance in two acts.

As Hal, the impressionable young prince, Evan Ockershausen moves convincingly between the orbits of the dissolute Falstaff and his father, King Henry IV. What parent hasn’t bemoaned bad influences on his children? And what emerging adult has not sought to rebel against the sober expectations of a parent. Ockershausen embodies the conflict in his posture and gait, which ranges from debonair cockiness to humble repentance and finally, pride.

The production’s gender-neutral casting was particularly effective in the case of Henry IV, played by the diminutive Sam David, whose astute body language and vocal gravitas allow us to fully imagine a strong and determined monarch who both loves and deplores his son, and is gradually felled by the ravages of illness.

Wayne De Cesar plays the infamous Falstaff as an aging rogue with more than a glimmer in his eye. One might have wished for a portrayal that more fully embraced Shakespeare’s famously fat and funny character, but his nostalgic scene with Mistress Quickly, played with gusto and confidence by Jaki Demarest, was among the most affecting in this production.

Director Josh Engel envisions the combined show with an emphasis on father-son relationships, emphasizing the push and pull of Hal’s two “fathers” but also reflected in the loyalty between Hotspur (Erin MacDonald) and Northumberland (Carol Calhoun) and the latter’s profound grief when his son is killed by Hal.

Lead costumer Trevor Jones gives visual credence to Engel’s jazz-age setting, clothing Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet in flapper glitter and glam, and Falstaff in an appropriately tired, tailed, tux. Military uniforms for the opposing camps reflect the restive, post-World War I period.

Lighting by Jeff Poretsky moved the audience convincingly from royal to ribald settings, echoing again the contrasting worlds inhabited by Hal. The Highwood Theatre may pose challenges to actors trained to project their lines forcefully – one could almost see their words shatter and break against the low ceiling in the first act. By the second act, however, both Eric Honour’s sound and the actors themselves had moderated their volume, making each character far easier to comprehend.

The Rude Mechanicals deserve our respect for their tireless efforts to interpret and reinterpret the classics ranging from ancient Greek dramas to those of The Bard. Their production of Henry IV Parts I & II reminds us yet again that Shakespeare’s themes are virtually timeless, giving inventive players across the generations endless opportunities to breathe new life into familiar and well-loved characters.