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Michael Winters as the Knave Falstaff Trumps Two Kings — Henry IV and Henry V — at PlayMakers Rep

Michael Winters is magnificent as that rascal Sir John Falstaff (photos by Jon Gardiner)

Michael Winters is magnificent as that rascal Sir John Falstaff (photos by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMakers Repertory Company guest artist Michael Winters of the “Gilmore Girls” television series plays that uproarious roly-poly rascal Sir John Falstaff, boon companion and surrogate father to Prince Hal (guest artist Shawn Fagan), with such gusto that his larger-than-life characterization of the knave in the two-part historical drama The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V trumps those of the two English kings — Henry IV (portrayed with an icy imperial demeanor by PRC mainstay Jeffrey Blair Cornell) and his all-too-human son and successor Henry V (Shawn Fagan as a grown-up and newly clean and sober Prince Hal).

Watching Michael Winters huff and puff hilariously around the Paul Green Theatre’s thrust stage is the principal reason to endure the three-hour Henry IV — which PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Joseph Haj and New York City-based freelance director Mike Donahue have condensed from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One and Henry IV, Part Two. Political intrigue during the reign of Henry IV ran hot and cold, with the impetuous Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Cody Nickell) unable to suppress his hostility to the crown and that sly schemer the Earl of Worchester (Ray Dooley) unable to stay safely in the shadows as a wire puller for a pending 15th century regime change.

Shawn Fagan (foreground left) as Prince Hal and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as King Henry IV, with Patrick McHugh (background left) as Ned Poins and Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff

Shawn Fagan (foreground left) as Prince Hal and Jeffrey Blair Cornell as King Henry IV, with Patrick McHugh (background left) as Ned Poins and Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff

Meanwhile, the motley crew at the Boar’s-Head Tavern — Falstaff, Hal, his mischievous friend Ned Poins (Patrick McHugh), Bardolph (John Allore), Nym (Nathaniel P. Claridad), Pistol (Jeff Cornell), Mistress Quickly (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), and the boy Davy (Tania Chelnov) — are all vividly drawn by consummate comedians, as these lowlifes frolic the night away, purloining the odd purse or two here and there whenever they run out of money for sack.

Sadly, Shakespeare killed off Falstaff in Henry V, which the irrepressible Michael Winters narrates as Chorus. He also dexterously steps in and out of bit arts, such as the Bishop of Ely, the French Governor of Harfleur, and Sir Thomas Erpingham, who commands a key unit of Henry V’s French invasion force.

Also making the most of their moments in the spotlight are Cody Nickell as the gung-ho Welsh captain Fluellen, Jeff Cornell as the pugnacious ancient ensign Pistol, Jeff Cornell as the effete King Charles of France, Matt Garner as his intemperate son the Dauphin, and Kelsey Didion as the Princess Katherine, whose comical tangle-tongued courtship by England’s soldier-king Henry V is one of the highlights of Henry V.

Kelsey Didion as Princess Katherine of France and Shawn Fagan as King Henry V

Kelsey Didion as Princess Katherine of France and Shawn Fagan as King Henry V

Shawn Fagan delivers once again, with his fiery response to the Dauphin’s famous mock, a rousing reading of Henry V’s St. Crispian’s Day (band of brothers) exhortation to his troops, and his amble through the English camp during the “a little touch of Harry in the night” segment, the latter two events on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

Directors Joe Haj and Mike Donahue stage The Making of a King with wit and imagination, but they could improve both plays by quickening the pace in some segments. Scenic designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, and costume designer Jennifer Caprio combine to make this 15th century chronicle truly regal, and original music by composer/musician Mark Lewis also invigorates this ambitious two-play project.

RELATED EVENTS: In connection with The Making of a King, PlayMakers will investigate America’s engagement in various military conflicts via a series of special events entitled “Breaking History: Power, Politics, and the Legacy of War.” For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/media/story.aspx?id=159fa481-ec08-43bb-bf19-3c47fb9938c9.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 17th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5367 and Feb. 8th review by Scott Ross: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5350; Feb. 8th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (show awarded Henry IV 3.5 of 5 stars and Henry V 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-making-of-a-king-henry-iv-and-henry-v/Content?oid=2794254 and Feb. 1st Durham, NC mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-making-of-a-king/Event?oid=2748959; Feb. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/02/07/1835445/falstaff-and-hal-keep-king-afloat.html; Feb. 6th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Deborah Strange: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/02/shakespeares_words_made_authentic_by_dramaturg_in_making_of_a_king, Feb. 5th review by Katherine Proctor: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/02/making_of_a_king_an_engrossing_6hour_event_thats_worth_the_effort, Feb. 2nd preview by Katherine Proctor: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/02/a_drinking_game_worthy_of_a_king, Jan. 25th review by Grace Tatter: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/01/the_making_of_a_king_an_epic_journey_for_playmakers, and Jan. 23rd preview by Katelyn Trela: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/01/playmakers_produces_henry_iv_and_henry_v_in_epic_event; Feb. 2nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/17378549/article-Shakespeare’s-King-Henry–extended-version? (Note: You must register first to read this article). (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 29th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/01/prcs-joseph-haj-and-mike-donahue-will-co-direct-the-making-of-a-king-henry-iv-and-henry-v/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE MAKING OF A KING: “HENRY IV” AND “HENRY V” with Performances of Henry IV at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, 2 p.m. Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21, 2 p.m. Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, and 2 p.m. March 3; and Performances of Henry V at 2 p.m. Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-25, 2 p.m. Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m. March 1-3, and 2 p.m. March 4 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $10-$35.

BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://playmakersrep.org/tickets.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, miwashin@email.unc.edu, or http://playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/makingofakinghenryIV.

STUDY GUIDES (compiled by the Utah Shakespearean Festival):

Henry IV, Part One: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Henry4pt1/henry4.html.

Henry IV, Part Two: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Henry4pt2/henry4pt2.html.

Henry V: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Henryv/henryv.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/.

BLOG (PlayMakers Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo/currentparking.

NOTE 1: There will be 10:30 a.m. $8.50-per-person student matinees on Feb. 22nd (SOLD OUT) and March 1st (SOLD OUT). For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/matinees.

NOTE 2: There will be an open-captioned performance at 2 p.m. on Feb. 18th (Henry V) (click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption for details).

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors on Feb. 19th (Henry IV) and Feb. 26th and March 1st (Henry V).

NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21st (Henry IV) and 28th (Henry V) shows, which will also be sign-language interpreted (click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess for more information about these All Access Performances).

NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion called “Thrice More into the Breach: The Making and Unmaking of Men in Peace and War,” led by Harold Kudler, MD, after the 2 p.m. March 3rd (Henry IV) and 2 p.m. March 4th (Henry V) performances.

OTHER LINKS:

Henry IV, Part One: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Part_1 (Wikipedia) and http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1115 (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

Henry IV, Part Two: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Part_2 (Wikipedia) and http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1117 (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

Henry V: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_V_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1119 (e-text courtesy Project Gutenberg).

William Shakespeare: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).

Shakespeare Resources: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/index.html (University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

Joseph Haj: http://playmakersrep.org/ (PlayMakers Repertory Company).

Mike Donahue: http://www.mikemdonahue.com/ (official website) and http://playmakersrep.org/ (PlayMakers Repertory Company).

Michael Winters: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0935975/ (Internet Movie Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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