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We're Henry IV, We Are, We Are: The Plays, in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Are the Things

Everybody knows that Henry IV is the Shakespearean king who comes in two parts, both of which are best known for containing the miracle ingredient Falstaff. This fall, however, New York is going to be one of the rare cities where the bipartite monarch will appear not only in two plays but in two venues, in versions likely to be as different from each other as—well, as Windsor Castle is from a tavern in Eastcheap. Up at Lincoln Center Theater, the Vivian Beaumont

will hold a star-spangled cast, under the direction of Broadway maestro Jack O'Brien (lately best known for helming Hairspray), in a one-evening conflation by Dakin Matthews of Shakespeare's two five-act plays. Richard Easton, who won a Best Actor Tony as the aged A.E. Housman in O'Brien's Lincoln Center staging of Tom Stoppard's Invention of Love, will play the multi-tormented title character, with Billy Crudup's Prince Hal and the normally svelte Kevin Kline as the fat knight whose boozing and braggadocio are the play's mirror-reversed image of kingship, a walking advertisement for un-royal behavior. The busy cast will also include beloved Dana Ivey, doubling as haughty Lady Northumberland and low-down Mistress Quickly, plus Ethan Hawke as the rebellious knight Harry Percy, or Hotspur, and Audra McDonald as his equally hot-tempered lady.

Across the river, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will supply only the first half of Henry's story, but this may be more than enough for conventional-minded subscribers, since the motivating force behind BAM's premiere production—the first-ever specially commissioned staging of a classic play in the Next Wave Festival—is its director, Richard Maxwell, the Obie-winning wunderkind of downtown deadpan. How Maxwell's downbeat, hyperreal, anti-illusionist approach will square with Shakespeare's panoply of scenes and elaborate verbal flights is an even bigger question than where Kevin Kline will get Falstaff's physical amplitude. Maxwell's cast, unannounced as of press time, will include core members of the company that's engaged audiences with such distinctly un-Shakespearean ventures as House and Drummer Wanted, their ranks swelled by professional and nonprofessional ringers to a cast size of 23—certainly the largest company ever assembled for one of Maxwell's works, which are usually on the intimate side.

Richard Maxwell directs BAM's production.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Richard Maxwell directs BAM's production.

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Facing off from opposite boroughs and opening within a month of each other, the two productions with their contrasting approaches make sense as a way of illuminating the story of hard-nosed, power-minded Henry Bolingbroke, who has seized the English throne from his inadequate cousin Richard II (a tale told in another of Shakespeare's history plays), and now finds ruling a joyless task, what with his son Hal (who'll grow up to be Henry V, lately incarnated in Central Park by Liev Schreiber) hanging out in taverns with the circle of petty thieves and lowlifes dominated by the bawdy, loose-living Falstaff, who serves him as a surrogate father and underworld king. As if generational dissent weren't enough, Henry has to contend with a set of fractious nobles (including another father-and-son team, the Percys), whose view of kingly paternalism is even more aggressively hostile than his own son's. Shakespeare's diptych is a set of running contrasts, comparing kings' and nobles' right to rule, courtiers against commoners, law against license, pleasure against duty, and ultimately age versus youth. Even heedless Hal matures; even hedonistic Falstaff grows old and autumnal. It's hard to imagine a better battleground for the play's issues than the eternal New York conflicts of downtown against uptown, Manhattan against Brooklyn. Get ready for the reverb of chimes at midnight.

Henry IV, Part One, runs September 30 through October 4, BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100. Shakespeare's Henry IV begins previews October 28 and opens November 20, Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 212-239-6277.


Previews by Brian Parks


BECKETT/ALBEE
Opens September 9

CENTURY CENTER, 111 EAST 15TH STREET, 212.239.6200

Actors Marian Seldes and Brian Murray pair up in this series of one-acts by Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, echoing the writers' first New York matchup, the 1960 production of The Zoo Story and Krapp's Last Tape at the Provincetown Playhouse.


THE NIGHT HERON
September 16-November 9

THE ATLANTIC THEATER, 336 WEST 20TH STREET, 212.645.8015

Kidnapping, religious cults, and a poetry contest figure prominently in Jezz Butterworth's new piece, just as they do on select nights back at my folks' house. His first play since Mojo, The Night Heron will be directed by Neil Pepe and features actors Chris Bauer and Mary McCann.


SACRIFICE TO EROS
September 30-December 14

THE PANTHEON THEATER, 303 WEST 42ND STREET, 212.868.4444

This Common Ground production is a retelling of the biblical tale of the Prodigal Son, but relocated to a farm during the Great Depression. Frederick Timm's script also adds in a gay theme, much to the dismay of Saint Paul. Expect a new Letter to the Corinthians.


CAROLINE, OR CHANGE
Previews October 28

THE JOSEPH PAPP PUBLIC THEATER, 425 LAFAYETTE STREET, 212.239.6200

Playwright Tony Kushner, composer Jeanine Tesori, and director George C. Wolfe—all Obie winners—team up on a civil-rights-era musical about a black maid and the son of the Jewish family she works for.


DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN
October 2-26

CLASSICAL THEATER OF HARLEM, 645 ST. NICHOLAS AVENUE, 212.868.4444

The Classical Theater of Harlem won much acclaim for its revised revival of Genet's The Blacks last spring. Here's hoping they meet with equal success during this season's schedule, which kicks off with Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain, starring Andre DeShields.

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