- Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I is a story about the prodigal Prince Hal, the heir to the throne of his father King Henry IV. While the king is busy fighting rebels, the Prince of Wales is carousing with disreputable companions in taverns.
- Thou Art Here Theatre is a local company focusing on site-sympathetic and immersive adaptations of Shakespeare.
- The Artery is a small community-driven liquor-licensed arts and music venue near downtown. (They’re being forced to close their doors at the end of the month, but are working to find a new location and continue with their mandate. Their fundraiser is here.)
Put these three together and you can see where it’s going: telling the story of Henry IV Part I as seen from inside a tavern, at The Artery. Andrew Ritchie developed the adaptation and directed the show, cleverly bringing the important bits happening outside the tavern in using multimedia – clips of breaking TV news read by the Messenger (Katie Hudson), TV interviews with the rebel Hotspur hiding out in a cellar (Ben Stevens) and with the King giving press conferences in City Hall (James MacDonald), Hal’s texts and FaceTime calls with the King. Prince Hal (Neil Kuefler) and his friend Falstaff (Troy O’Donnell) hang out in the tavern managed by Hostess Quickly (Nancy McAlear) and her employee Francis (Ben Stevens), and their bluff sidekicks Poins (Alyson Dicey) and Bardolph (Jesse Gervais) drop in with rowdy schemes.
If you’re feeling hesitant about what you have to do as an audience member in an immersive theatre experience, this is a good one to start with. Because basically, you can just sit in the tavern with a drink and watch the story happen around you, with no more work than twisting your neck. Or you can get up and go get another drink, or you can engage with the players a bit more if you want.
I’m not very familiar with the source text, so I can’t tell you how the adaptation varies. It seems to have much of the original language, but all the performers are comfortable enough with the Shakespearean text that it’s easy to follow and not distracting. McAlear is especially natural as a timeless tavern-keeper. Kuefler manages Prince Hal’s transition from irresponsible scamp to a smooth officer for his father with a surprising shift in body language as well as costume. And O’Donnell was a delight as the lazy greedy opportunistic middle-aged knight Falstaff. I got a little tired of all the fat jokes, but I guess I should take that up with Shakespeare and the audiences he was writing for.
The Falstaff Project is playing at The Artery until Sunday night – and oh! I forgot to tell you the other cool thing. There’s music afterwards. Different local musicians are playing after every performance, and admission to that is free with the play ticket, or $5 just for the music. Advance tickets are here.