Henry IV: A well-executed descent into madness

Morgen Moraine

Last weekend, Lawrence’s drama department performed Luigi Pirandello’s “Henry IV,” and it was quite the wild ride.

The plot of the play stems from two events. The first is Henry falling off his horse at a masquerade in which he was playing King Henry IV. He hit his head, and when he comes to he believes himself to truly be King Henry. The second event is what comprises the play we see. Twenty years after the accident, Matilda, the women who was Henry’s lover at the time of the accident, comes back to visit Henry in his “court.” She brings her current lover Belcredi, daughter, son in law, and a psychologist simply known as “the Doctor,” and all kinds of madness quickly ensues.

The supporting cast did an excellent job; however, a few actors stood out. Claire Conard’s Doctor perfectly embodied the stereotypical doctor: stiff, wordy and relatively unapproachable. Madeline Bunke’s Matilda conveyed an inner conflict and a heartfelt pity for the man she once loved, and the tension between her character and Vinitsky’s Belcredi was palpable.

Each actor in the production delved into his or her character, going much past merely delivering lines. Each moved in a particular way to suit the type of person they were. They also paid attention to accenting certain syllables, and speaking in a particular style to further their characters. They kept the audience engaged when talking about more cumbersome things such as Henry’s psychological state, and did a great job staying in character even when silent.

After studying Henry, the Doctor devises a plan, which is intended to shock Henry back to his sanity: Matilda and her daughter, who look very similar, will both dress as they were when Matilda went to the masquerade with Henry. However, before this can be enacted, we see Henry confess to his servants that he’s been sane for eight years, and has known he wasn’t the real Henry IV. He just preferred “to live as a mad man of sound mind” rather than face the fact that he’d lost the woman he loved and 12 years of his life.

Kyle Brauer’s portrayal of Henry took us effortlessly from insanity to sanity and back again in a few words, and when he finally arrived somewhere between the two, it left the audience wondering past the last line. Flawlessly in character, Brauer’s monologues used the entire range of volume and inflection he had at his disposal, and carried us away to the half-mad world of Henry’s mind on the edge of the sane and the insane. Despite the size of his role, Brauer kept all his many monologues straight and delivered every word with precision and intention.

Though there was no music originally to be performed with the play, a small ensemble consisting of four musicians, directed by senior Jaclyn Kottman, provided some accompaniment.

Placed in the pit in front of the stage, the musicians played before each act, between some scenes and during certain monologues. This added a great effect to the play, lending more tension to speeches and separating the characters’ ideas from each other.

The musicians were playing period recorders from the James Smith Rudolph Collection of Early Winds, and this is the first time the recorders have been used in a performance setting since their arrival on campus.

Kottman also selected and arranged all the music used in the production, using both early and modern music, spanning from the Baroque era to Nirvana, in an effort to embody the theme of past versus present running throughout the play. She also used what she called the “hidden lyrics” of some the songs to further emphasize what is happening during the play in the places where she chose to have music.

For instance, she underscored some of Brauer’s speeches with music composed by past kings. Kottman said her intention was to create a “sonic wallpaper” to back the actors and underscore the flow of the plot.

We then have the closing act, in which the plan to restore Henry’s sanity is started, only to be stopped halfway through when Belcredi finds out from the servants what Henry told them. Henry is forced to face the real world, and becomes violent, revolts and stabs Belcredi. The play closes to Henry reclaiming his throne for the rest of his life, insane or otherwise, and this is how the world will see him forever.

Though it never becomes clear whether Henry is insane or not, that doesn’t mean we take him less seriously because of it. Henry’s words ring in the ear leaving us with questions long after the play is over. As Henry would say, “Our whole lives, crushed by the weight of a word that weighs no more than a fly.”