Likely the only thing harder than watching six hours of Shakespeare in two days is performing 12 hours of Shakespeare in four days. I did the former; the cast of Henry IV, Part I and Measure for Measure does the latter. The International Shakespeare Center has embarked upon a repertory season with two uncut Shakespeare plays performed by the same formidable cast—perhaps the first project of its kind in Santa Fe, and certainly an impressive one either way.
Henry IV, Part I, directed by Ariana Karp, is perhaps the slower of the two, though half of it centers around a lively Falstaff (played by Marty Madden, easily this production's star). The other half is a military drama concerning the titular Henry (a regal Paul Walsky) and his son, the rebellious Prince Hal (Noah Segard), who are at odds with Hotspur, played by Geoffrey Pomeroy.
A quick note about Pomeroy: Should anyone casting anything in Santa Fe or beyond ever need someone who positively seethes, this is your man. There is a constant churning just under his skin in every role I've seen him play, and these two productions make great use of it.
Admittedly, and particularly due to the choice of presenting this three-hour play uncut, it sometimes moves with slowness to the point of dragging. It's not by any fault of the cast, but the lengthy scenes of conversation about military logistics, place names and people names bogs down a group that can otherwise fly.
And fly they do in scenes like those featuring Falstaff, one of Shakespeare's most reliable sources of comic relief. So stay tuned for those, as well as for the battle scene at the end; having local stage combat expert extraordinaire Ambrose Ferber in the cast and readily available to choreograph scenes of physical violence (and comedy, for that matter) served these productions well, and when the Battle of Shrewsbury sees armies charging each other from opposite corners of the room, the cinematic aspect of the big cast (it definitely felt like more than 17 people) was highly effective.
Another notable performer was Santa Fe newcomer Breshaun Birene Joyner, who portrayed a tender Lady Percy to Pomeroy's spiny Hotspur. From the moment she walks onstage she commands attention, exuding a quiet confidence even in less prominent roles. In Measure for Measure, meanwhile, her turn as Provost saw her onstage and flexing her muscles—and I hope to see much more of her in Santa Fe's theaters.
Speaking of Measure for Measure (from director Caryl Farkas), while I found both productions well presented, this is the one I'd pick if I could choose only one ticket. In a sickeningly applicable the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same kind of story, we see Claudio (Alex Reid, an animated pleasure to watch) having impregnated the "fornicatress" (best word ever) Julietta, played by Zoe Burke.
Claudio is to be beheaded for this crime, and he begs his sister, the nun Isabella (brava to Mairi Chanel), to plead with Angelo, deputy to the Duke of Vienna, for his life. But Angelo (aforementioned seething Geoffrey Pomeroy) takes a shine to Isabella, and says if she does un-nunly things with him, he'll pardon Claudio … adding in the kicker that if Isabella tells anyone, no one will ever believe her.
Throw in the wily Duke Vincentio of Vienna himself, portrayed by Ariana Karp, who disguises himself as a friar to better understand his subjects, and finds himself smack in the middle of this drama as it unfolds. Karp is absolutely luminous in the role, lending an even more prismatic nature to one of Shakespeare's more complicated dark sociopolitical dramas.
There is actually a lot of comedy in this play, despite its dastardly themes. And with particularly lively performances by Kelly Kiernan as Pompey and Dylan Marshall as Lucio, it clips along at a comfortable pace, though it clocks in at only about 20 minutes shorter than Henry IV.
A note on costumes: When I saw a preview on Theatre Santa Fe's Facebook page that noted slightly zany costuming choices, calling them "whimsical and eccentric"—call me cynical, but I read this as "probably insufferable."
Aha! Not so. I was totally charmed by Ali Olhausen's unique and perhaps flamboyant eye in costuming this piece, from Pompey's snakeskin leggings and the Provost's sparkly stiletto boots, paired with occasionally more classical-looking pieces to remind us that this is indeed Shakespeare. It worked masterfully (not to mention it's coupled with Olhausen's impressive performance onstage as Mariana).
If you are ready to sit still and listen closely for three hours, Henry IV is your ticket; if you want to be enraged by a plot but enchanted by aesthetics, Measure is for you.
And ultimately, everyone in this cast deserves a milkshake and a nap.
Henry IV, Part I
7:30 pm Friday Aug. 30, Thursday Sept. 5 and Saturday Sept. 7; 2 pm Sunday Sept. 1.