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Utah Shakespeare Festival's easy to follow 'Henry IV Part 1' is majestic rendering

Published: Tuesday, July 8 2014 4:40 p.m. MDT

A scene from in Utah Shakespeare Festival's Henry IV Part 1.

Karl Hugh, Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2014

“HENRY IV PART 1,” through Aug. 30; Adams Shakespearean Theatre, 351 W. Center, Cedar City; $35-$77 (435-586-7878 or bard.org)

CEDAR CITY, Utah — “The better part of valor is discretion.”

“He will give the devil his due.”

“It would be argument for a week, laughter for a month and a good jest forever.”

“I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream.”

“Play out the play.”

These most famous lines — with a few remaining in common usage today — are spoken by Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff, and their relationship in “Henry IV Part 1” is perhaps the most unique Shakespeare created. It’s made clear that Falstaff believes Hal to be his friend, but Falstaff is only a source of amusement to Hal. Yet, there is some affection Hal feels toward Falstaff.

Hal is a 15th century rebel bad boy, carousing in taverns and robbing his father’s treasury. The events in “Henry IV Part 1” lead to his “reformation,” with Falstaff, his knight-adviser, by his side. And these are the most memorable moments of Shakespeare’s play.

In Utah Shakespeare Festival’s otherwise glorious production of “Henry IV Part 1,” Sam Ashdown as Hal and Henry Woronicz as Falstaff share too little onstage kinship connection. Ashdown appears removed from Woronicz, and Woronicz lacks the charm the role requires, along with missing some of the comic opportunities.

It’s a highly tricky transformation that must be achieved effortlessly. Ashdown fails to convey this pretense: that his unruly behavior is only an act and his reversal into a noble leader will amaze his critics and help him be seen as a better king. He assume that role in “Henry IV Part 2,” and his heroic reign and conquest of France is covered in “Henry V.”

I found myself rooting for Hal’s rival, Hotspur, played with firebrand intensity by Steve Wojtas. Hotspur has vowed to kill Hal’s father, King Henry IV, and has been bad-mouthing him all over England. I was completely dismayed when Hal kills Hotspur in the Battle of Shrewsbury near the play’s end. And I wished Hotspur were in fact Henry’s son, as the King had initially ridiculed Hal.

Wojtas’ passionate yet combative relationship with Erika Haaland, as his wife Lady Percy, was a rewarding aspect to see.

“Henry IV Part 1” director Brian Vaughn very capably stages the intensity each of the characters feel and very impressively heightens the tension leading to the truly thrilling battle at the play’s conclusion.

It is ultimately a majestic rendering and the developments are easy to follow. This is especially remarkable when the scenes can be disjointed and the balance between the political and personal conflicts challenging to unify. It must be said that there is intelligence and a vivid spirit in the production.

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