Jonathan Epstein undertook a courageous and largely successful project making an evening’s performance out of the Henry plays. I could have used a little more Doll Tearsheet and a little less Ancient Pistol, but I understand choices have to be made. The narrative was clear throughout, and there were some surprising and gently humorous touches to leaven the loaf. Malcolm Ingram was an absolutely wonderful Falstaff. Seedy, not always assured – he didn’t sport the pomposo attitude we often see. His was a kind of seat-of-the-pants, make it up as you go, Falstaff. Very occasionally we were worried that he would’t be able to nail it, but he did. The reason I would love to have seen more of Tearsheet is because the relationship between the Doll and the fat man both softens and expands his already protean largeness. Speaking of largeness, Mr. Ingram had a stuck-on belly – “dropsical” is Shakespeare’s word. I don’t know if this was intended or not, but it fit beautifully with the attempts Fastaff makes to separate himself from his belly. Proud of it, and looking for a little distance from it, he clearly thinks of himself as a thin (and youthful) man who just happens to have a belly hanging on by a thread. And this is exactly what his costume looked like. Everything was not easy for this Falstaff. He had to work hard sometimes to make the words come. This in a virtuoso speaker of prose was a welcome and moving thing. The girls liked him. This was right. He is somehow attractive. His nay-sayers, right up to the excellent Garry Wills, give us a read Falstaff. Falstaff in the theater is forgiven all, especially one as detailed as Mr.Ingram. Not because of charm, because of persistence. He never gives up. Does he know that Hal will reject him? Yes. If one looks at the end of the trial in the tavern, one hears something remarkable from the old devil. He actually says the same line twice: “Banish not him, thy Harry’s company.” Is this pleading? Is Hal not listening? Why a repetition from the greatest prose speaker in the English language? Does he already understand that Hal is not listening? Prince Hal then says his short and telling line, “I do, – I will.” Now as I understand psychology, one must first will in order to do. But this is not what Hal says. He states strongly “I do,” then maybe there is a pause, as there was in Henry Clarke’s performance, and then says less confidently: “I will.” These lines, closely read, suggest to me that Falstaff is more aware of the coming end than Hal is sure of it. I heard this in Mr. Ingram’s voice. Prince Hal was played strikingly by Henry Clarke, verbally and physically. He gave 150% all the time. Jonathan Epstein doing triple duty, came up with a King Henry IV who was more sympathetic to his son’s position than I have often seen, and this was right and moving. Ariel Bock spoke her benedictory speech in a single spot and did not overdo the mispronounced words but made music of them. Glyndwr was richly played by Johnny Lee Davenport, and the Welsh song (part of his heritage) was gently and searingly performed by Tori Grace and Alexander Sovronsky. Timothy Adam Venable’s Hotspur was hyper, and that was right. His wife, played by Kelly Kilgore, gave us a passionate defense of laying down the weapons and talking it through. In her few moments as Doll Tearsheet she spread reality like a salve over the old knight.
The show was like a large and great picture-book. We waited for the pages to be turned. The pictures were beautiful. There was fun, but not too much fun. There was sadness. There was death. But we all ended up along with Falstaff, in Abraham’s bosom.