Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review of Pirandellos' Henry IV at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pirandello's Henry IV. It was written by Luigi Pirandello and translated by Tom Stoppard. It was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a man who had fallen off a horse and gone crazy and thought that he was Henry IV (Mark L. Montgomery). He's been living as Henry IV. On this day his ex-love interest Matilda (Patrice Egleston) has come for a visit to see how he is doing and they are trying to make him sane again with the help of a doctor (Noah Simon). It is about the concepts of reality and sanity. It is also about feeling justified for what you've done wrong. I thought this was a very interesting and complex show.

In the first scene it starts out as three men--Harold (Tyler Esselman when I saw it, usually Martel Manning), Ordulf (Micahel Turrentine), and Landolf (Jake Szczepaniak)--who are working for Henry talking to their new guy Bertold (Chris Vizurraga) about what they are doing and how their job works. It reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead because no one was talking like in Henry IV's time, just like how everyone talks not Shakespearean except when they are playing their character in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Bertold has read up on the French Henry IV, which is not the right one. They are talking about the Holy Roman Empire Henry. Everyone else there was very offended by the mix-up and I found that funny because nobody could tell if they didn't specify. I thought it was the English one from the Shakespeare plays. The employees are making this reality for this guy and are being paid for it, which makes them kind of like actors. The difference is that they are only performing for one person and they think that one person believes that everything they are saying is completely true. It was very interesting to see that these people's everyday lives were all centered around performing for one human being. This show is about people pretending to be characters. It is not like Six Characters in Search of an Author, which is also by Pirandello, which is all about the concept of being a character separate from the actor. Everyone thinks that Henry thinks he is actually the king. But he is acting; he is pretending to be crazy and pretending that he still thinks that he is Henry IV. In 6 characters the characters know they are not actually people and that they need an author. And Henry's life is now to be the character of Henry IV and not a person until he tells everyone that he has been faking and then he is back to being a person again. He doesn't think he is Henry IV anymore and he isn't pretending to be Henry IV, but that doesn't mean that he is sane.

I think the play is trying to show the different ways that somebody can be insane. Henry is insane because he falls off a horse and thinks he is Henry IV. Henry is insane because of the bursts of outrage that happen even when he doesn't think he's Henry IV. And he is also insane by taking joy by tricking everyone for years and making everyone tend to him for years; he is insane for pretending to be insane. Each of those ways of being insane is very complicated. Once everyone thought he was ok because he was talking to everyone normally and didn't think that he was Henry IV anymore, he goes on a rampage and tries to kidnap Matilda's daughter Frida (Clare Cooney) and kill Matilda's boyfriend Belcredi (James Houton). But he still feels justified for what he has done, which just shows how crazy he is. That ending was surprising and very effective because you thought his confession would be the solution of the play and everything would be back to normal. But...nope! I feel like that was an even better ending to the play and it got me very invested. Just because somebody is one kind of insane doesn't mean they can't be another. People can pretend to not be insane and to be insane too.

The Bechdel test was not around when Pirandello was alive, but I think this would have been an even better play if it had been. There are two named female characters, but they don't have a scene together where they talk about something other than a man. The story is about this guy who thinks he is Henry IV when he isn't, but it would be nice if it presented women as something more than just accessories or a plot points. Henry thinks women are objects, but that doesn't mean that women have to be objects in the play. It seemed that way to me, not because the actors weren't good, but because everything the women said would segue into talking about a man. Matilda would start talking about how she wished she looked younger but that would just turn into something about how Henry still recognized her. And Frida talks about Matilda of Tuscany but only because a man thinks that who she is. Henry was talking about things all the time without talking about women. And the other male characters get to talk about aging, the complexities of the mind, and history.

People who would like this show are people who like exploring concepts of reality, surprising twists, and untrustworthy horses. I thought this was an interesting and complicated show. It really got my brain working.

Photos: Johnny Knight

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