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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

'Henry IV' impresses at DPAC

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Sara Shoemake
Sara Shoemake
Stepping into the Patricia George Decio Theatre at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, the audience members easily could see they was going to be transported to another world. The stage was transformed into an ancient hall: Two sets of crossbeams hung down above the triple-layered stage, signaling the world of “Henry IV” would be more primeval than the one they just left.

“It looks like ‘Beowulf’ up there,” sophomore Mollie Effler said.

While the world of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” was not quite the one from the ancient epic “Beowulf,” the two sometimes seem equally distant from the modern world. Of course, the academic world considers Shakespeare’s plays to be as relevant today as they were in his time — the key to any staging, then, is to make that clear to the audience.

The Professional Theatre in Residence at Notre Dame accomplished this task through a combination of talented acting, masterful staging and impressive lighting. Every aspect of the performance was designed to keep the audience engaged in the precarious situation of Henry IV, as he fights against usurpers and the fear his heir apparent may never mature enough to be king, even through a three-hour performance.

Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the performance of “Henry IV” was the amount of acting talent pulled from various parts of the Midwest. Many of the actors were called upon to play multiple roles.

Henry Godinez, who took on the role of the title character, was particularly noteworthy in his role. From the very first scene, Godinez created a strong, regal persona whose fears about stabilizing his center of power clearly haunt him.

Acting as a foil figure for Henry IV, John Lister performed the part of Sir John Falstaff. Lister’s Falstaff was at once appealing and repulsive, garnering laughs and confusion at his character. In the end, when Henry V finally abandons Falstaff for more regal pursuits, Lister acted out his despair perfectly, garnering sympathy for a character even when it is not clear that it is deserved.

The play was a conflation of Parts One and Two of “Henry IV.” As written by Shakespeare, Henry IV is two full plays. Director Michael Goldberg and Ryan Producing Artistic Director Grant Mudge worked together to create this version of “Henry IV,” which combines the two original plays into one production.

The end of “Henry IV: Part One” is the Battle of Shrewsbury, in which the audience sees the Prince of Wales return to his father’s good graces by saving him from one of the rebels.

The fighting in these scenes was particularly remarkable in this performance of “Henry IV.” Each actor executed leaps and jumps in these scenes that made each battle scene compelling.

In the final scene, the audience saw the recently-ascended Henry V walk slowly away from his old friend and confidante, Sir John Falstaff. The rest of the cast fell away and only the figures of Falstaff and Henry V remained illuminated. This scene emphasized one of the best parts of this interpretation: the use of lighting and shadow.

Throughout the play, lighting was used effectively to underscore the mood. Each of the tavern scenes was brightly lit, instantly signaling the shift from castle to town. In contrast, the scenes where northern rebels plan their attacks against the sovereign king were dim, the corners of the stage in complete shadow.

As with any Shakespeare performance, the script is at once a blessing and a curse. The story is compelling and the writing already lauded as great. It comes down to troupe to make the performance great. The talent of the actors and the artistic direction of this recent performance of “Henry IV” gave credit to the writing and upheld its place in the storied tradition of Shakespeare.

The first performance was August 19, with the last performance a matinee this Sunday. “Henry IV” was part of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, which ends in September with “Much Ado About Nothing” performed by Actors From The London Stage.