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HENRY IV, Pt. 1

It's hard for a father to watch an apparently wayward son find his way in life, and that parental angst forms the personal core of the "history play" Henry IV, Part 1. That is the problem King Henry faces as he muses on his son, the wastrel Prince Halm, who spends his time drinking with the dissolute Sir John Falstaff and thinking up pranks to play. His dad wishes he were more like the son of his rival Thomas Percy (Ross Rhodes), the hot-blooded, laser-focused young Hotspur. HIVPI is a long play loaded with all kinds of political details, but as usual the talented Ohio Shakespeare Festival company manages to sort it all out. As the two sons, Andrew Cruse and Joe Pine draw clear distinctions as Hal and Hotspur. Each is intense in his own way and yet oh-so-different, and both display a clarity of diction that is immensely satisfying. Cruse is aided by an energetic Geoff Knox as Hal's wingman (okay, gentleman in waiting) Poins, and Pine finds succor in the arms of his wife, Lady Percy (Tess Burgler in a small but impactful turn). In the title role David McNees frets nobly, and convincingly shows this man's political acumen and his vulnerable personal side. Also, Derrick Winger is appropriately full of himself as the gasbag Owen Glendower. Once the fighting starts, Ryan Zarecki stars in two roles: as the Likes-to-Fight Guy, the Scottish Earl of Douglas, and as the fight director. These aren't the tippy-tappy fight scenes you're used to, as the actors often seem to swing for the fences with their axes and such. In the highlight role of Falstaff, director Terry Burgler offers a mostly comfortable version of this boozy whore hound. It's an audience pleaser, but his interpretation doesn't delve very deeply into Falstaff's clear and present contradictions. Still, Burgler is amusing in a fat suit that seems lifted from Martin Short's intrepid celebrity interviewer, Jiminy Glick. As for the introductory greenshow, a long send-up of Cymbeline as done by the Disney Studios has its moments, but overall the concept seems funnier than the execution. This observer missed the shorter pieces, with one usually tweaking a selected Shakespearean trope. Still, the greenshow — directed by Tess Burgler with Jason Leupold as music director — is not to be missed. It starts a half hour before the main event. Huzzah!

Through August 17, by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 North Portage Path, Akron, 330-673-8761, ohioshakespeare.com.

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