Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s production of Henry IV Part Two bristles with strong performances and dramatic tension. Directed by SSC veteran actor and director Scott Wentworth, it plays in the Festival Glen in repertory with The Man in The Iron Mask, a Wentworth-authored play receiving its world premiere this season. Watching the cast members perform wildly different roles between the two adds an extra layer of pleasure to this already excellent production.

The storyline picks up where Henry IV Part One leaves off, just after the Battle of Shrewsbury, which has left the rebels, led by Hotspur, ambushed and their leader dead. The crown of King Henry IV is safe for the moment, but with the old king fast weakening, and with rebellion in the countryside and trouble mounting overseas, the monarch is not feeling especially secure about his legacy. The fact that his son and heir, Prince Hal, is only recently showing signs of maturity after a youth spent tomcatting and carousing is not helping.

Charles Pasternak as Prince Hal is the biggest surprise and one of the greatest treats of this production. Intense, sometimes mesmerizing, he pulls off the trick of this character, which is to embody enough fire and life to make his recent rambunctious past believable while showing that energy to be under the bridle of intelligence and instinctive good judgment. He does this with particular skill in one of the final scenes, when Hal appears to consider taking revenge on his old nemesis, the party-pooping Lord Chief Justice (the excellent Dierk Torsek), but relents and even retains him in his service.

V Craig Heidenreich as the king gives the play its gravitas. Tall and regal, he carries in his weary gait and bearing the story of an illustrious, difficult past. He has what is surely one of the best speeches in history about insomnia (and one of the most-quoted lines in Shakespeare, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”), but Heidenreich’s tour de force is on Henry’s deathbed as the king and Hal come to terms. Full of grief and rage, he conveys the terrifying raw paternal power that helps explain the phenomenon that is Hal: an intelligent, willful son might very well choose to take an outrageous path rather than face that kind of crushing power on its own terms. It also helps explain the charisma of the king we’ll see next summer in Henry V.

And of course there is Sir John Falstaff, played with malicious wit and huge joie de vivre by the wonderful Richard Ziman. It’s hard to imagine a better, more interesting Falstaff. Lecherous, gluttonous, thieving and usually soused, he is somehow weirdly likable—and not because he’s good-hearted beneath it all, because he’s not. Ziman plays Falstaff with a wicked, foxlike intelligence that you just have to admire even though he is almost always up to no good, and he doesn’t let pass a single opportunity for a laugh. Every time he shows up onstage, you know you’re in for a good time.

Other outstanding performances came from Marion Adler as Mistress Quickly, Ted Barton as Silence and Richard Farrell as Justice Shallow. The set is spare but effective, and the costuming is remarkable as usual.

Few opportunities remain to see Henry IV Part Two. Go catch one of them this week before it completes its run on Aug. 26.

 

HENRY IV PART TWO

Festival Glen through Aug. 26

www.shakespearesantacruz.org