You’ve got to give it to Gary Briggle: Rogue Prince is a catchier title than Henry IV, Parts I & II. Although Falstaff (the character he plays in this production, co-directed with Wendy Lehr) still has his big trademark belly, Briggle has kept his Shakespeare slim for this new adaptation inspired by the 1965 Orson Welles movie Chimes at Midnight.
Theatre Coup d’Etat has taken up temporary residence in a church basement, an apt venue for this very Minnesotan drama. There’s a contested crown and a sword fight, sure, but it also involves a disappointed dad, a strained friendship, and an unpaid bar tab. If there was ever a Shakespeare story for Fargo’s Jerry Lundegaard, this would be it.
The performance space, as configured, makes for an immersive experience but presents some real challenges for actors and audience. The cozy subterranean theater at Calvary Baptist Church has an appealingly medieval feel, and chairs are arranged in a three-sided rectangle that gives the cast free range of both the stage and the floor.
That brings you up close to the performances, maybe even needing to tuck your legs under your seat when the Boar’s Head Tavern gets crowded. When actors are turned away from you, though, their voices can get lost in the room’s corners, and with the Bard’s dialogue sometimes delivered in a rush, key moments go missing.
The eponymous heir is Henry, Prince of Wales. Coup d’Etat artistic director James Napoleon Stone steps into the starring role with a convincing take on the character as a rakish party boy who haltingly rises to his responsibilities and isn’t quite sure what to do with his friends in low places. Put him in Nantucket reds and you’d instantly see Ted Kennedy. Ben Shaw is positively vicious as Henry “Hotspur” Percy, so much so that Stone needs to strain to appear a credible foil to the sneering rebel.
An energetic ensemble has some strong scenes, particularly for the empathetic Anna Leverett and the ominously ebullient Kaylyn Forkey. At its heart, though, the production showcases the skills of veteran actors Briggle and Bruce Bohne, who plays the elder Henry with a foundation-shaking pathos. (Bohne actually did appear in Fargo, as Marge Gunderson’s police partner, Lou.)
Falstaff is one of the great comic characters in the canon, and Twin Cities audiences this year have had multiple opportunities to learn why. Joe Wiener brought a ripely prideful take on Falstaff to Classical Actors Ensemble’s Merry Wives of Windsor this summer. Here, Briggle shows us a more tragic side of the aging knight: never losing his essential dignity, even when he’s being punked by his pals.
There’s a lot to admire about this Rogue Prince. It’s not revelatory, but it’s a solid, intimate production that puts a new lens on this timeless tale.
Calvary Baptist Church
2608 Blaisdell Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through October 26; theatrecoupdetat.com