MNSU's "The Two Henrys" Review

Mankato Theatre faculty member Paul J. Hustoles has put together and directed a compilation of three of William Shakespeare’s history plays: “Henry IV” Part i and ii and “Henry V”, forming, of course: “The Two Henrys”. These three scripts culminate in a pared-down production of the most important plot points from each play, creating an evening full of some of Shakespeare’s greatest scenes…and a long evening for the audience.

One thing to remember is that this play is put on in dedication to the Bard, as this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Because of this, and even though the mere fact that this is a compilation of three history plays would imply this in any sense, this show is largely suited to those who already really enjoy and appreciate Shakespeare. By that, I mean that being able to recognize the famous quotes from these is only one thing, because if you do go, you will be counting those quotes for over three hours. That is not an exaggeration, that is how long I was there. It also throws you straight into the war-jargon as soon as the play begins, so if one doesn’t already know that Falstaff will be the most enjoyable part of the evening (he is, Gabriel Sell does a wonderful job), one may find the play a little hard to get through.

If that sounds pessimistic, I will say that it is still a good play, and on all accounts. The costumes are some of the best period pieces I’ve seen, and the wooden set comprised of platforms even demonstrates some inspiration from the actual Globe Theatre - the simplicity surprisingly providing even more of an atmosphere. The individual fights are well-choreographed, though the only onstage group battle is a little lackluster. But of course, Shakespeare’s prose must be given by actors, and these do amazing work.

With a show as long-winded and, well, eloquent as this one, I would almost expect to see actors’ performances wearing out at some point, but these never do. Everyone in this show is so full of emotion and investment that, after some time to get used to the language, the audience is drawn in too. The performances of Doni Marinos (King Henry IV) and Billy Gleason (Harry “Hotspur” Percy) are particularly strong. Fans of last month’s “The Full Monty” may recognize Mack Spotts-Falzone, Andrew Anderson and Mitchell Evans, as well as the aforementioned Gabriel Sell doing great justice to the beloved role of Sir John Falstaff. And I don’t know what it is about how Cam Pederson plays the French royal Dauphin (or Louis), but it’s hard not to crack up at his mannerisms. Most of the French King’s court give comical performances. But of course, most of the evening focusses on Prince Hal, later King Henry V, and the casting of Cary Scott Du Charme II was an absolutely perfect choice. Du Charme presents as both an endearing young man and dignified ruler very well, and the last scene featuring the titular father and son together is very touching and emotional, driven by two wonderfully strong actors.

So, in the end, it is a great play. Whether you will enjoy it just depends on who you are. If you do go to see it, I strongly recommend making use of the program notes. It can be a little hard to keep track of the characters otherwise. The sections titled “In the beginning…” and “All in the Family” give context, guides to the emblems, who’s from which kingdom and so on.

Summary:

The Good - It’s Shakespeare, played by wonderful actors with strong technical direction.

The Bad - Sitting for almost two hours, just for the second act.

The Noteworthy - It’s a shortened presentation of three works of one of the greatest playwrights in history... if you’re in to that sort of thing.

If you’re a fan of history or just a literary nerd, I am sure you can enjoy this production. If you’re not, maybe consider going to see Doctor Strange instead.