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Henry IV

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, casting by Daniel Swee, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 W. 65 St., NYC, Nov. 20-Jan. 18.

The only thing unusual about this Lincoln Center production of "Henry IV"—aside from its general excellence—is its text. Dakin Matthews, a dramaturg who clearly earns his keep, has condensed the two full-length parts of "Henry IV" into one coherent play lasting a mere three and three-quarter hours. Otherwise, Jack O'Brien has directed a conventional production, with no discernible "concept," no updating, no postmodern trimmings. Some dark ironies, no doubt, are obscured. But Shakespeare's story of Prince Hal (heir to the English throne), his royal father (the voice of duty), and his surrogate father, Sir John Falstaff (the seductive voice of pleasure), is clearly, vigorously, compellingly enacted.

Kevin Kline's Falstaff is appropriately fat and jolly—one might want to see a little more of his dark side—but his shrewdness and his lordly panache keep him from being just a medieval Santa Claus. Michael Hayden's Hal is a charming puppy-dog prince who somehow manages the stature to make himself believable as a soldier and, finally, as a king. Richard Easton as Hal's father is a vividly choleric monarch. As Hotspur, Hal's rival, Ethan Hawke is a rough, headstrong intruder in the carefully negotiated world of medieval politics. Among all those nobles with geographical names, Byron Jennings is not only the best Worcester I have ever seen, he's the only Worcester I have ever noticed. Audra McDonald and Dana Ivey are luxury casting in smaller roles.

Ralph Funicello's scenery (wooden platforms at various levels, supported by heavy wooden posts and beams), Jess Goldstein's costumes (medieval in feeling, with plenty of leather), and Brian MacDevitt's Rembrandtesque lighting (somber but not gloomy, picking out the action against vast darkness) create a context of tavern, court, and battlefield for O'Brien's strong cast of 33 actors. I do not call for an end to "concept" Shakespeare. But conventional Shakespeare, when done this well, is perhaps not so conventional after all.

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