Of all the common modes of staging the Bard’s works, Shakespeare in the Park productions are probably the most recognized for their efforts to involve the community. Shakespeare in Clark Park and the Team Sunshine Performance Corporation take this one step further by literally involving the community in their production of Henry IV: Your Prince and Mine. Their actual cast of hundreds fits in perfectly with their larger-than-life interpretation of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, a hilarious and heartfelt spectacle that commands the entire bowl of Philadelphia’s Clark Park.
Director Alex Torra is one of the Team Captains of Team Sunshine, whose mission includes “interactive, audience-focused events that emphasize gathering-through-art.” The gathering is certainly a mighty one, with one hundred community members on hand to portray the opposing armies, and under Torra and company’s guidance they act as a stylized and impressively well-coordinated chorus. While the general audience is not directly involved (aside from a few fourth-wall-breaking jokes/requests for chocolate), the company very clearly has the accessibility of the audience's experience in mind, providing an informal summary of the play’s historical context that also introduces the production’s comedic and non-traditional elements.
Scenic Designer John McDermott’s set offers a similarly permeable barrier between audience and production, both in its minimal design that is level with the audience members at the bottom of Clark Park’s bowl and in its evolution. The production begins with a triptych of rough boards emblazoned with St. George’s cross, supplemented as needed by an iron throne, primitive benches, and the Boar’s Head Tavern’s cart (complete with impressive pyramid of kegs). Boards are scavenged from the backdrop as the play goes on, transformed into tables and platforms; it has disappeared entirely by the time the set is cleared for the climactic battle sequence, giving the audience an uninterrupted view of the fight. The play concludes with literal and figurative rebuilding, as Hal ascends the throne placed atop a dais repurposed from the rest of the disassembled set, backed by the formation of massed extras.
Laila Swanson’s costume design complements the set’s rough-hewn appearance with a modern aesthetic graced by a few dystopian touches. Almost everyone wears grey trousers and black military boots; initially, the nobility appears similarly uniform in button-down shirts, with the Percys in black only a few shades from the navy blue of Henry IV’s court. The palette is largely muted, and the few spots of color seem to belong to those outside the court: Falstaff’s red kerchief; Mistress Quickly’s green skirt; the aquamarine henley Hal wears beneath his untucked and unbuttoned oxford. But everything changes in the final act, when the promise of battle brings out everyone's latent 80s post-apocalyptic action movie tendencies. The main cast dons their armor and releases the tank-tops of war (with the exception of the Douglas, who eschews such frivolities as shirts and pants in favor of his kilt), with the rebels in white and Henry IV's forces in a red inverse of the flag of England; their supporting armies follow a similar color scheme in individualized sportswear-inspired uniforms.
It would be easy for the core of the play to get lost in the midst of such explosive spectacle (during the deployment of the homemade smoke grenades, for example), but both Torra and the cast do an excellent job of establishing the weight of the characters and story. Brian Anthony Wilson as Henry IV embodies royal gravitas, channeling the full weight of his responsibilities as king even while being baffled by his son's actions or dying dramatically. Daniel Fredrick's Hotspur is deprived of his more sympathetic qualities due to textual editing, but makes an admirable villain: Fredrick loses none of the character's temper or humor as Hotspur takes a much more active part in fomenting rebellion, suborning his relatives to treason as much as they do him. Marla Burkholder takes what could have been a thankless task – playing edited versions of all the female roles in a text already notably lacking in women – and instead demonstrates the cost of war through the reactions of three very different women. Lady Percy responds to Hotspur's impending departure with anger and frustration; Mistress Quickly to Falstaff's with sadness and resignation; and Lady Mortimer to her husband's with much high-spirited Welsh. She concludes with a melancholy song, foreshadowing the coming conflict as she reprises it in English directly to the audience.
The production, however, revolves around Brian Ratcliffe's Prince Hal, a charismatic and self-effacing young man who genuinely enjoys the company of his funny but disreputable friends, even as he feels guilty about participating in their thievery and avoiding his duties to the country, as well as his strained relationship with his father. The emotional center of the production is Hal's friendship with Falstaff (Charlie DelMarcelle). Without sacrificing Falstaff's comic foibles or downplaying his wit, DelMarcelle rounds out his character with hints of melancholy and anxiety, and even the occasional modicum of dignity, suggesting that his enjoyment of the moment arises from an awareness of harder times. Obvious affection lurks under Hal's and Falstaff's constant mockery of one another, and for all that Hal tries to warn him that their relationship cannot last, his rejection of Falstaff at the end is clearly heartbreaking for both of them.
The latter point is made possible by Torra's and Associate Director/Script Master Thomas Butler's expert combination of the two plays: the main action is taken directly from Henry IV, Part 1, but the battle of Shrewsbury in Act V is immediately followed by the king's death scene and Hal's repudiation of Falstaff from the final scenes of Henry IV, Part 2. This mash-up works extraordinarily well, resolving Hal's relationship with his father, Falstaff, and the throne all in one go. Torra takes similar care in balancing the other elements of the production. Both comedic and dramatic aspects of the text are given equal weight. The music, by composer and music director Alex Bechtel, adds an integral component to the production, mixing Gregorian chant and martial drums with folk songs and hymns. The emotional realism that runs throughout the play deliberately transitions to epic stylization in the latter acts. Besides averting chaos on the hundred-person battlefield, it lends a mythic grandeur to Henry IV's death scene: he requests to be taken to the chamber of Jerusalem to die (another happy synchronization of the two texts, since his very first lines are about his desire to go to the Holy Lands) then walks through his hundred-person honor guard to disappear into the glare of floodlights at the far end of the park. Hal's coronation is similarly stylized, echoed visually and aurally by the chorus – and it provides a stark contrast to Bardolph's, Peto's, and Falstaff's attempts to engage him. The play ends with Henry V sitting emotionless on his throne while Falstaff is dragged away, wailing his name.
The production excels at this combination of humanity and spectacle: though Hal at this point seems to have transcended the title Your Prince and Mine, the audience remains fully invested in Falstaff's anguish and understands the cost of Hal's transformation. Shakespeare in Clark Park and the Sunshine Team have given the community both the chance to take part in this outstanding production and the experience of awesome Shakespeare.