To make the most of “The Making of a King,” you have to do your homework.
PlayMakers Repertory Company’s most recent production — a double feature of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V” — is a sweeping narrative of a crucial chapter in British political history.
Making of a King:
Time: Tuesday through Friday, Feb. 7 to March 4, at 7:30 p.m. in rotating repertory; Saturday performances of both plays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances at 2 p.m.
Location: Paul Green Theatre
4 out of 5 stars
Making of a King
PlayMakers Repertory Company
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Due to the show’s vast scope and numerous characters, mental stamina and prior familiarity with the plot are necessary to maximize what the plays have to offer.
But the production is well worth the effort it demands of the audience. It is evident that all facets were treated with the utmost care, from the precise costuming to the captivating music, composed and performed live by Mark Lewis.
The production contains enough action and intrigue to make it feel shorter than its total running time of six hours — perhaps more like four.
The production’s first leg — an abridged version of both parts of “Henry IV” — blends political drama and a coming-of-age tale.
One of two main plotlines focuses on a rebellion against King Henry IV that erupts into civil war, and the other explores the transformation of heir apparent Prince Hal from tavern wastrel to serious ruler.
In his PlayMakers debut, Shawn Fagan is charming as the spirited Prince Hal.
Beer mug constantly in hand, he swaggers about the stage, doling out insults and winks in equal measures.
But — as expected — the show’s true standout is Michael Winters as Falstaff, Hal’s portly and red-faced second-father figure.
Winters, who many may recognize from the former television series “Gilmore Girls,” gracefully plays the bumbling role.
He makes Falstaff more than the fleshy butt of a parade of fat jokes, and the laughs his performance gets come from respect for the actor rather than derision of the character.
The play’s best moments are in Boar’s-Head Tavern, where the actors can capitalize on the clever banter of Shakespeare’s lines.
But a weak spot lies in the play’s combat scenes. Though punctuated with the appropriate grunts and bellows, the brawls are less than convincing.
As a whole, the play is nuanced and particular. Shakespeare’s detailed character portraits are successfully executed, and they foster emotional investment in the show’s dramatized history.
If the strength of “Henry IV” is in the specifics, the strength of “Henry V” is in the spectacular.
The production is characterized by chilling battle cries and invigorating speeches, and impressive effects like onstage rain augment the show’s grandness.
Fagan demonstrates his range in his portrayal of King Henry V, notably — and appropriately — different from his performance as Prince Hal.
He does justice to the play’s famed St. Crispin’s Day speech, and the fierce passion of his monologues makes it easy to forget he has sent his subjects into war just because he wants some land from France.
As Katherine, Henry’s eventual wife and the daughter of the French monarch, Kelsey Didion is delightful — and bilingual.
One of the show’s most memorable scenes features her sitting in a bathtub, learning English in a sequence that slowly builds to her riotous drop of the C-word.
The few moments like these — comic breaks from constant battling, chanting and speech-making — give the show dimension.
The production gathers its momentum from the preceding “Henry IV,” barreling through a war and into a peace treaty.
But despite the surface happiness of the characters, an ominous end-note complements historical hindsight in letting the audience know that all is not well.
It is paradoxes like these that keep the audience engrossed throughout the show — and that’s all we can ask for.
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