There aren’t many people who would cite any of Shakespeare’s history plays as their favorite. Most point to one of his comedies or tragedies as the one they’ll go out of their way to see.
(Mine is “Othello,” by the way, which is Kentucky Shakespeare’s next production this summer. I’m practically vibrating from anticipation.)
But Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and even when the play is less than exciting, it is still exciting to see on stage. Not to mention: on stage, under the stars, in Louisville’s Central Park, well-fed by local food trucks, well-imbibed thanks to delicious bourbon cocktails (on National Bourbon Day, no less), in the company — intended and not — of wonderful friends and Shakespeare enthusiasts … a delight.
You can have your Derby. Now, in the absence of Idea Festival, either the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival or Humana Festival reigns as the best time to be in Louisville, in my opinion.
Kentucky Shakespeare’s production of “Henry IV, Part 1” debuted Thursday, June 14, on arguably one of the most beautiful nights of the year so far. The firefly-dappled park was cool and breezy and host to a relatively small audience because, technically, it was a preview, not opening night.
“Henry IV, Part 1,” directed by Amy Attaway, is the second play in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy comprised of “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part 1,” “Henry IV, Part 2,” and “Henry V.”
Kentucky Shakespeare produced “Richard II” last summer and has committed to producing one play in the tetralogy each summer until it’s complete, with as many actors reprising their roles as possible.
They’re calling the series “Game of Kings,” and the aesthetics of the production, while less bloody and rape-y, are similar to those of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
This installment of the history of English kings is set in 1402, and Henry Bolingbroke, aka Henry IV, is now king. His reign is threatened by his once-allies. His son, Hal, is living the life of a roustabout, hanging out in taverns with thieves and drunks, like his mentor Falstaff.
Women are few and far between in the story. It’s a plot-advancing history play, but it’s not without its laughs. Both the drama and the comedy were deftly handled by the summer company — newcomers and veterans alike. The acting was superb.
Tom Luce played the titular character in a pretty snazzy crown. He’s full of fire and fury, reprising the role from last summer.
Jon Huffman is, as always, a master in both his role as the Earl of Northumberland and the sheriff. The short time Gregory Maupin is on stage (and what a costume), he commands is. He and his wife, Abigail Bailey Maupin (also woefully underused — but what are you going to do in such a testosterone-driven play?), embraced the Welsh language and dialect, which sounded utterly authentic to me.
Jon Patrick O’Brien remains one of the finest actors in town, whether he’s called to perform drama or comedy. He was called to do both as Hotspur. It also was really nice to see Crystian Wiltshire, one of the younger actors who was last year’s Romeo, seize a comedic role with such zeal.
The new stage at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater frames the landscape so beautifully, and the park is so peaceful and pleasant, it’s just a pleasure — when the weather isn’t stifling — to spend a few hours sitting on a bench with a friend or loved one watching anything, frankly.
But when Attaway and Kentucky Shakespeare put such delightful talent in front of us, as they do with this play, it’s worth not just going, but going again. Add food and drink, and it’s an ideal summer night. We’re so lucky, Louisville.
“Henry IV, Part 1” continues through June 25, and then returns July 10 in repertory with the other two Kentucky Shakespeare plays. Shows are at 8 p.m., with pre-shows starting at 7:15. Food trucks open at 6:30 p.m. and the bar opens at 7. Dogs and kids are welcome, and as always, it’s free — it’s the longest-running free Shakespeare festival in America.