Friday, March 9, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "KING HENRY IV, PART 1" at North Coast REP and MiraCosta College

The King's The Thing

North Coast Rep and MiraCosta College join forces for a fantastic, first rate revival of “Henry IV, Part 1”

By Donnie Matsuda

It’s a wonder that North Coast Rep and MiraCosta College in Oceanside have waited so long to begin their partnership bringing Shakespeare’s medieval masterworks to modern day life. Their collaboration seems like a match made in literary heaven, as it gives NCR’s artistic director David Ellenstein the chance to showcase his professional actors in large, lavish productions on the state-of-the-art MiraCosta stage, while MiraCosta’s student actors have the opportunity to share the spotlight with NCR’s master thespians, greatly benefitting from their mentorship, advice, and wisdom.

The first North Coast Rep/MiraCosta College co-production was back in 2010 with The Tempest and now the companies are again joining forces to produce one of the Bard’s most sweeping and stately plays, Henry IV, Part 1. Their collaborative efforts have more than paid off in their handsomely mounted, first rate revival which only holds court for a short while, until March 18, at the MiraCosta Theatre in Oceanside.

Kevin Koppman-Gue as Henry, Prince of Wales and Andrew Barnicle as King Henry IV. Photo courtesy of Eric Bishop.

Henry IV, Part 1 is widely regarded as one of the greatest plays in the Shakespearian canon and it’s easy to see why. It features a cast of colorful characters, boasts some of the most beautiful language ever written, and is replete with universal themes of power, war, family, and honor. The play also provides a nice contrast of influence and politics, as it shifts back and forth from the stately, aristocratic royal court of King Henry IV (as he struggles to defend his kingdom from rebellions on two fronts) to the rowdy escapades of his son, Henry, Prince of Wales (as he cavorts around London taverns with his partner in crime, the lying “low-brow” Falstaff).

The play also introduces some of the most iconic characters in literary history and North Coast Rep’s seasoned veterans along with MiraCosta’s talented up-and-coming actors form a uniformly game ensemble cast. Most impressive is Bernard X. Kopsho as the robustly rotund and playfully comedic Falstaff. As befuddled as he is brazen, Kopsho is a master of physical comedy as he delights in his devilishly droll role, delivering the wry wit of the jolly old knight with both ease and enjoyment. Also strong is fresh-faced Kevin Koppman-Gue as Henry, Prince of Wales. It’s a tall order for such a young actor to trace the character’s vast arc from a young, immature thrill-seeker to a responsible heir to the throne, but Koppman-Gue does an admirable job of being convincing without being overly exuberant in his acting. And Andrew Barnicle is subtle yet strong as the play’s namesake, King Henry IV. He adequately conveys the aging king’s grace and nobility, while also revealing the emotional cracks that begin to form as his kingdom’s future becomes more and more uncertain.

Kevin Koppman-Gue as Henry, Prince of Wales and Bernard X. Kopsho as Sir John Falstaff. Photo courtesy of Eric Bishop.

In other roles, as the impulsive and impetuous Henry Percy (“Hotspur”), Michael Phillip Thomas takes his nickname too much to heart and imbues his character with an overwhelming amount of fire and fury. He rushes through his lines with so much passionate anger at a deafening volume that it is sometimes hard to take his regal role very seriously. In contrast, John Herzog gives a much more grounded and nuanced performance as Hotspur’s father, Thomas Percy, and John Tessmer showcases his bell-clear Shakespearian voice as Earl of Northumberland.

And proving that there are no parts too small, San Diego theatre legend Jonathan McMurtry makes the most out of his cameo role as the red-nosed, ruddy-faced Bardolph. Part inebriated imp, part immoral idiot, McMurtry is simply adorable (and at times amusing) in his gnome-ish interpretation.

Michael Phillip Thomas as Hotspur and Amber Bonasso as Lady Percy. Photo courtesy of Eric Bishop.

While the women aren’t featured as prominently as the men (this is Shakespeare, after all), they still manage to deliver strong performances in their supporting roles. MiraCosta College Theatre Professor Tracy Williams is a lively, loveable rogue as tavern wench Mrs. Quickly, while Amber Bonasso gives an earthy spin to the all too genuine Lady Percy, as she attempts to cool her husband’s rebellious fires with her chilly sensuality.

Director David Ellenstein’s masterful staging brings out the best in his large 29-member ensemble. While helming this three-hour epic Shakespearian saga is no small task, Ellenstein delves deeply into the material and extracts some dynamic and dramatic performances from his uniformly solid cast. His stately direction also works seamlessly with Mike Polak’s stage combat sequences and the overall effect is at times thrilling and intriguing.

Tracy Williams as Mrs. Quickly and Bernard X. Kopsho as Sir John Falstaff. Photo courtesy of Eric Bishop.

And it wouldn’t be 15th century England without some spectacularly regal costumes done up with plenty of pomp and circumstance by designer Alina Bokovikova and a simple but effective multi-locale set (dominated by three larger-than-life, drop-down crests and a oversized corner crossbeam) ingeniously designed by Andrew Layton. Sound designer Chris Leussmann provides musical interludes fit for a king, while lighting designer Matt Schleicher creates some dramatically lit and visually arresting moments.

All in all, North Coast Rep and MiraCosta College’s co-production of Henry IV, Part 1 is everything one could want in a reigning monarch: handsomely designed, smartly written, and brilliantly executed.

Things to know before you go: Henry IV, Part 1 co-presented by North Coast Repertory Theatre and MiraCosta Theatre plays at the MiraCosta College Theatre in Oceanside through March 18, 2012. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Remaining performances are March 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17 at 7:30pm and March 11, 17, and 18 at 2pm. Tickets are $25 with discounts available for seniors, students, and staff. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (760) 795-6815 or visit or

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